Cheese Chat with Juliet Harbutt

Juliet Harbutt is Hawke's Bay's renowned cheese master. After 35 years abroad in the U.K. where she owned her own wine and cheese shop in London, Juliet returned to New Zealand and moved to Hawke's Bay for a new adventure.

Now Juliet is sharing her extensive knowledge and love for cheese with Hawke's Bay locals and lucky visitors through 'Hunter Gatherer Tours' - the ultimate foodie experience drawing on the regions outstanding produce.

We sat down with Juliet in her beautiful home to chat Summer F.A.W.C!, and all things cheese.

Cheese Master, Juliet Harbutt

Cheese Master, Juliet Harbutt

Most of us love cheese, but what made you take the leap to work with it?
I had a delicatessen restaurant in Wellington, back in the 80s and I had been working very hard for about 4 years and I decided I needed time off for good behavior, so I took myself off to Europe looking for ideas. I went to Paris, this little wine shop with wines from lesser known regions in France, and in order to persuade you to try them, they offered you a little bit of cheese.

I tasted the cheese and I thought ‘Oh My God’ if this is cheese, this is extraordinary! This is amazing! I went around Paris and tried all of these cheeses, then travelled back to New Zealand, sold my business, and started a wine and cheese shop in London.

How and why did you start Hunter Gatherer Tours?
So, when I came back to New Zealand after 35 years in the U.K., I had never lived in Hawke’s Bay, so it was all new to me and fun. I discovered all this artisan food around Hawke’s Bay, and also discovered you can be an expert in cheese, but we don’t have the facilities for a cheese tour. So, I thought, what else can I do? Hawke’s Bay is all about tourism – why don’t I do a tour? Then I suddenly came up with this ‘Hunter Gatherer Tours’ idea out of nowhere, and off I went.

What is the most rewarding thing about your new business venture?
The look on people’s faces at the end of the day, the sense of pleasure and joy that people after they’ve done my tour. It sounds incredibly trite, but what they love about it is coming to my home, and being welcomed in my home, and that's what I also love about it.

What are some ‘rules of thumb’ around matching cheese to wine, cider or beer?
There are basic rules that do work. With wine you could say: the lighter and brighter the wine, the lighter and whiter the cheese. The richer and darker the wine, the harder and yellower the cheese. It’s a rough kind of rule for people who don’t know anything about cheese. Cider and beer are the best kept secret, they work really well.

Cheese tasting

Cheese tasting

I see – is there a ‘perfect pairing’?
There is a perfect pairing, but they can’t find that out unless the come to my tours! It’s an absolute secret!

Are there any cheeses that suit a season? If so, what are some great cheeses for Spring?
Basically, one of the nice things about cheese is that they are seasonal. Particularly sheep and goats’ milk cheeses. September/October is the beginning of the milk season, and then is in full flow in summer. So those cheeses come in early as they take a small amount of time to ripen. If you are making hard cheeses in October, they will come into their own the following year around August – you’ve got that season running through, depending on how hard the cheese is.

What are your favourite cheeses?
Asking me what my favourite cheeses are is like asking somebody which is their favourite child. So, I’m not admitting it! Impossible to choose! What I do say to people, if you can’t find the one you love, love the one you find.

Tell us about ‘School for Big Cheeses’ – What can F.A.W.C!ers expect from your masterclasses?
It’s all about educating and inspiring people about the magic of cheese, and to help people develop a knowledge of cheese by providing them with the ground rules on which to judge them. Hence, the joke about being a ‘school.’ Without the ground rules, you can’t build your knowledge, so you go around in circles buying the same cheeses over and over again. It’s a bit like people who say “I don’t know much about wine, but I know the one’s I like.” Well, that may be a disgusting wine because you have no way of judging it. People will understand how amazing cheese is, the cheese process, how they differ, why the differ, and why you may need to pay more for them.


Masterpieces - Fakes or Fabulous Finds | Thursday 8 November | $75



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