You could say the Berry family from the Whitestone Cheese label are among the forefathers of New Zealand specialty cheese makers. The cheese factory was founded in 1987 by Bob Berry and his wife Sue, who were looking to diversify during the 1980s rural downturn and a series of crippling droughts. Bob’s experience in livestock trading was quickly applied to the cheese trade!
Was Bob worried about his new business venture?
“Life’s about connections and I had a good one with Colin Dennison from Evansdale,” he recalls. “He owned a dairy cow and had been making cheeses in his kitchen. So we got together. That’s how it started. “Soon after, we leased a garage, lined it, bought a vat and hired Wolfgang, a German chef. Colin showed him the rudiments of crafting a good cheese,” Bob says.
They launched with one cheese variety, Whitestone Farmhouse. Three decades on, Whitestone is a familiar face on Kiwi cheeseboards and frequently takes our top local accolades – and international ones too, producing world-class cheese. While the range has grown and developed from just one variety into many, a strong sense of place and purpose is a key ingredient to all of the Whitestone cheeses. This couldn’t be more true than for their latest creation, Shenley Station Blue. Local milk produced on ‘sweet’ limestone country is the key ingredient to Whitestone’s distinct cheese character. All of the cheeses are named after regional place names in North Otago. The flavours are a result of the region’s climate, water and soils, and the grass, producing region-specific milk. All of the cheeses are still made using ‘open vat’ techniques, using only natural ingredients and no artificial preservative.
“Over the years, we’ve developed our recipes in-house and we’ve kept true to them. Every batch of cheese is a separate creation; you have to put love and care into it with no deviations from the master recipe,” Bob says. Bob’s still involved in the business. “Since its humble beginnings, it’s always been my job to run the ship and market our products,” he says. It’s still very much a family affair. Bob’s son Simon has taken the reins as CEO. “Simon does a great job, continuing to attract great people, including our team of very skilled cheesemakers.” The factory now employs more than 50 staff and includes a cheese store and guided factory tours.
“We want Whitestone to become the best specialist cheese maker in the country. We’re on the right track. We have fantastic staff who create a world-class product and I am just so proud of them, I really am,” Bob says.