Over the moon

How did we start? I decided in my 40’s to start my own business and decided it was going to be cheese manufacturing. I’ve always had a thing for cheese! When I was little I remember my dad would wrap little cubes of cheddar in bacon and fry them.
  • Trips to Europe where I tasted many kinds of cheese and saw artisan cheesemaking first-hand.
  • I started making cheese at home using a mail-order kit in 2000 with milk from my neighbours, the Ebeling family. They now supply our factory.
  • I live in the centre of dairy country in South Waikato, so raw milk source was available.
  • I founded Over The Moon Dairy in late 2007, starting production in January 2008. We’ve just had our 14th birthday. This was supposed to be a retirement project but has turned into the small business ownership role I always dreamed of. I’d always had the idea of starting my own business before I ended
    my working life.
  • The New Zealand Cheese School also operates from the Over The Moon factory, training professional cheesemakers from NZ – and all around the world
    (prior to Covid).
  • In 2015 we opened another Over The Moon Cheese Deli in Cambridge.
  • We also acquired the Cheese Cartel in March 2020, an online cheese subscription service, and been developing and growing our online store over several years.
What’s our point of difference?
The things that make us different are our innovation, access to four different types of milk, and consistently high-quality product. We love a challenge. We love ‘having a play’ in the factory and seeing what we can come up with. Different blends (cow with buffalo, goat with cow). We are also introducing our new sheep cheeses this summer. Most times it works and customers love our high-quality products. We’ve won over 150 medals and trophies, from both NZ and overseas.
Favourite product?
That’s like asking me what my favourite chocolate is! Not fair!!! I do love the hard sheep cheeses and am loving goat camembert too at the moment with its clean fresh taste and a bit of tang. My preference is to eat cheese without the addition of bread, crackers, anything (like the French)! I should also say that I think (just like wine) there is a cheese to match most occasions. Just like you’d probably spend $10 on a bottle of wine to go with a pizza, Tasty Cheddar is great on top of an oven bake, but there’s nothing like a beautifully gooey brie or camembert to share on a special occasion.

What’s fulfilling about the work?

  • Coming up with new and unique cheeses to impress cheese lovers! In Europe, they are very tied to tradition in the kinds of cheese they make, but in NZ we have a culture of being inventive and adaptable which means we can develop new and interesting products. At Over the Moon we love doing that with cheese!
  • Our team love contributing ideas about what to make and I enjoy seeing that.
  • Being successful with really tricky cheeses like our washed rind Galactic Gold!
  • Supporting other cheesemakers through curating monthly cheese boxes for the Cheese Cartel.
  • Overcoming big challenges and running my own business.
  • Employing lots of local people and contributing to the success of Putaruru.

Challenges?

  • Educating the public about cheese. Our cheese history has m a i n l y been about cheddar for a really long time, and that doesn’t take a lot of looking after. I spend a lot of time educating consumers about how to keep and use their speciality cheese and many people are flabbergasted to hear that the French don’t put their soft cheese in the fridge at all! We use warmer temperatures to mature our cheeses at the factory, and you can do this at home as well.
  • Planning production of perishable products with so many unknowns during a pandemic.
  • In a small business, being all things to all people, such as having to know the rules about food labelling, employment law, how to read a balance sheet and how to wrap a cheese properly… etc.

Impacts of Covid?

  • Sales are not in a regular pattern so it’s hard to plan production.
  • The pace of growth in online sales.
  • Lockdowns have seen drops in sales overall and it is much more difficult to operate profitably.
  • Challenges with the reliability of transport out to the stores we supply.
  • Unreliability of ingredients from overseas has seen us switch to local and more expensive supplies, in some cases.
  • The threat with Omicron is that staff will be at home isolating for long periods resulting in parts of the business being unable to function.
  • Also difficult to run cheese classes and host visiting groups in the pandemic.
  • … and it is harder to find staff!

Distribution?

  • We have our own stores in Putaruru and Cambridge.
  • A stand at the Hamilton Farmers Market.
  • Over the Moon’s online store.
  • The Cheese Cartel online store.
  • Supply direct to restaurants around New Zealand, retail stores and some supermarkets countrywide.

Future prospects?

  • Expecting our online sales to grow.
  • We’ll continue to innovate and dream up lovely new cheeses for people to try – usually at least three or four a year, some of which don’t make it commercially and others which we might make seasonally – or just a few times. We do love variety and also love launching something new on our unsuspecting public.
  • Surviving the pandemic in good shape has to be our focus for the next couple of years!
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