Cheese Tasting and Sheep Shearing in Oamaru

Dreams are going to come true today! As part of our 365 days doing 365 activities, we have wanted to try some classic Kiwi jobs among all the hikes, bungy jumps, jet boats, etc. Not every day can be a skydive day! So far we have had the honour of doing beekeeping in Ghost Town of the Forgotten World Highway and dairy farming in Taranaki. For months, we have wanted to complete our triangle by doing sheep shearing. Now, a day before we meet the halfway point of our 365 road trip around New Zealand, we are finally going to do it! We are finally going to do sheep shearing!

Whitestone Cheese

We think we love Oamaru more now! Although we have immersed ourselves in the coastal town’s quirkiness with the Victorian Fete and a whole museum dedicated to Steampunk, we feel there are a little more hidden gems to be found. So before this evening’s sheep shearing events, we head through town to Whitestone Cheese where you can actually watch cheese being made!

On the corner of Torridge and Humber Street, we walk into a cafe lined with an impressive display of cheeses, awards and traditional tools used in cheesemaking. Nothing seems more fitting than being greeted in a cheese cafe than by a woman with the most beautiful French accent.

“Why can’t you talk like that?” Laura whispers to Robin, who speaks far too fast and fluently to have a dreamy French accent.

Although you can usually take a self-guided tour of the Whitestone Cheese factory at your own leisure, Pauline, offers to show us around on this occasion.

Pauline gives us a tour of the Whitestone Cheese Factory Pauline gives us a tour of the Whitestone Cheese Factory
Robin can't resist the temptation of blue cheese! Robin can't resist the temptation of blue cheese!
Wheels of cheesey and stinky goodness Wheels of cheesey and stinky goodness
Robin tries to steel Laura's cheese taster... Robin tries to steel Laura's cheese taster...

Watching the cheesemakers at work

Around the back of the Whitestone Cheese Cafe are huge tanks containing the milk for the cheese. Walking a little further there is an open doorway to a small corridor with huge windows looking into different parts of the cheese factory.

Through one window, we see huge vats with rotating agitators moving the curd. Pauline explains how different sized agitators are used to create different types of cheese, as does the information panels above the windows explaining the entire cheesemaking process. Although we are lucky enough to see the cheesemaking during this vat stage, the cheesemakers are not on the next stage displayed through the next window. However, there is a jolly cheesemaker dancing down there…

Pauline explains a couple of more processes until we reach the final stage of fermentation. Wheels and wheels of Whitestone’s famous blue cheese sit in storage filling shelves from the large room top to bottom. It’s cheese heaven!

Cheese tasting

There’s nothing more left to do than to taste some cheese! Whitestone Cheese offer free cheese tastings on three of their cheeses. We try the creamiest and strongest brie that we’ve had the pleasure of tasting in New Zealand. Next, is a soft havarti cheese. Then we finish with a 6-month-old blue cheese. Pauling gives us an explanation for each one, explaining how its made in relation to what we saw in cheese factory viewing.

We can’t resist getting ourselves a cheese tasting platter with six completely different tasting cheeses. Even Frenchy Robin, who always makes a point of saying how much better French cheese is compared to anywhere else in the world, can’t deny that this right here is some damn fine cheese!

Tasting some delicious Whitestone Cheese

Sheepdog demonstration

Now that we are all dairy-ed out, we are heading just a few minutes out of town to the farm of the Oamaru Backpacker’s owners, Sally and Phil’s, to have a hand at sheep shearing!

We are greeted by Phil and his young and mad sheepdog, Nel, who even shows us what it means to be a sheepdog, rounding up the sheep with just a couple of commands from Phil. It’s bit of an odd feeling watching a sheep roundup with Sally and Phil’s pet lamb, Matilda, who just watches the whole ordeal like: “WTF?!”

Entering the woolshed

Now we head to the woolshed, already occupied by six sheep ready for a haircut! Phil really helps us understand his trade, as well as showing us where the hell do our clothes come from, by showing us the different types of wool: good wool, bad wool, merino wool. A display of wool lengths shows us how long the wool of a sheep grows after one year, two year, three year, four year…

The master shearer's tool The master shearer's tool
Laura gets a sheep naked Laura gets a sheep naked
Matilda the pet lamb looks at us in pure confusion Matilda the pet lamb looks at us in pure confusion

Watching the master at work

It’s time to get down to it. Phil is going to give us a demonstration on the first sheep before handing over the shears to us. But first thing’s first, you’ve got to catch the sheep. Even this takes skill, with holding the sheep the right way so that it can’t use its legs to run away from you. Then Phil smoothly drags it to the machine shears and gets to work. It’s a smooth process of shearing away while moving the sheep’s limbs and head out of the way and shuffling it around with his feet. Bish, bash, bosh: the sheep is sheared before it even knows what’s happened to it. Then Phil directs it to an opening in the wall where the sheep can run out into the field. Easy, right?

Now it’s our turn

Robin goes first. Laura goes second. And it goes a little something like this…

Sporting a lovely pair of special shearing pants, Robin heads into the small pen to catch his sheep. It’s painful to watch as the large sheep makes a mockery of Robin, wiggling out of his grasp. With the help of Phil, he finally gets it to settle on the floor, but now the mission is to drag the big bugger to the shears! On the other scale, Laura has a young and lively sheep to shear who jumps out of the gate and tries to escape the woolshed… Oh dear, this is not going to go well, is it?

GIving sheep boxcuts

With guidance from Phil we begin to shear, except, it’s not exactly the closest shave we could give to a sheep.

“Remember, the sheep is round, not square,” Phil says to Robin as Robin gives the sheep a boxcut like the freakin’ Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Laura isn’t much better with her lamb neither… Robin also has a habit of letting the sheep go, which leads to multiple sheep chases around the woolshed, whereas Laura doesn’t direct the freshly shorn sheep into the opening of the woolshed, leading to yet another sheep chase!

It’s fair to say that we suck at sheep shearing, but, man, we had a lot of fun! We can’t have done too much of a bad job though, because Sally still gives us an amazing roast dinner and the Kiwi classic pavlova for dessert!

Tomorrow, we’re leaving the cool and quirky Oamaru and heading to the Waitaki Valley full of fossils and bizarre limestone formations. Join us then!

Laura and Robin

The sheep herding show!
The sheep herding show! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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