Dairy farmer turned cheese maker Eckard Leicher of La Montanara, a small cheesery near Ashton in the Breede River valley, has taken home top honours in Woolworths first-ever Cheese Makers Challenge. His Royal Ashton, a Maasdam-type cheese with a sweet, nutty flavour, will join the ranks of award-winning cheeses available at Woolworths stores countrywide from February. The competition, judged by a panel of independent cheese experts, challenged small, local cheese makers to create new and exciting cheeses to tempt the tastebuds of South African cheese lovers. Only two entries were permitted per cheesery, and entries were received in the categories of hard cheese, semi-hard cheese, wash rind cheese, white mould cheese, blue mould cheese, fresh cheese or cheeses with added foodstuffs. Why launch a Cheese Makers Challenge? Zyda Rylands, Managing Director of Woolworths Foods explains: “Innovation is a passion for us. We love introducing new ideas and new flavours to our customers. With over 134 cheeses – many of which are exclusive and award winning – already on offer, we decided to challenge South Africa’s small cheeseries to create new and exciting cheeses. We’re incredibly pleased with the result.” The judges were unanimous in their praise for the overall quality of the entries. “The standard of entries was quite remarkable,” said cheese expert Valerie Elder. “There were some nice contrasting tastes and lovely ideas.” Claire Goosen of Lake Foods concurred. “I was very interested in what people came up with; very creative and a good balance between texture, flavour and appearance.” Leicher, who runs a dairy farm at the foot of the Langeberg Mountains, has been making cheese on the farm since 1993. He has received numerous local and international accolades for his products, including South African Dairy Product of the Year in 2002. He credits the organic approach he takes as well as his unique ‘ultrafiltration’ production process and his dedication to producing innovative products that offer quality and affordability for his success. La Montanara produces a wide range of dairy products for the connoisseur. They have been supplying Woolworths with numerous popular cheeses since 2001. These include Danish Style Feta, Organic Feta, Organic Gouda, Organic Cheddar, Organic Fat Free Cottage Cheese, Daily Cheese, Goat’s Milk Feta and Halloumi.