Bridal Veil Falls, Raglan, and The Village Cafe in Whatawhata are favourites of Meyer.
Miel Meyer carefully hefts over a large wheel of cheese, and wipes it reverently with a cloth. It's just one among row upon row of these golden beauties maturing on wooden shelves in Meyer Gouda Cheese's chillers, one of the hundreds that have to be turned every day.
"Cheese has been made this way for hundreds of years. We're drying it and helping to remove the moisture. It's a slow process but gives the best results; we're balancing safety and flavour, developing flavour and maturing the cheese."
Milan, 7, Miel, Arlo, 5, and Seb, 10 at the Meyer Gouda Cheese farm, complete with cheese-making factory.
It's a labour-intensive process and a precise one. For six weeks, Miel puts the goudas to be smoked in the smoker for eight hours during the day, and back in the chiller each evening.
Gouda is what they call cheese in Holland. "[It's] the way they treat milk in the morning, heating it and adding cold water so the gouda can be manipulated into the different types and aged for vintage cheese." The Dutch have been seafarers since ancient times, and their cheeses have always travelled well, and been less susceptible to climate and environment change.
Meyer Gouda Cheese is a family business started by Miel's parents in Holland using the same techniques as monks in a nearby monastery. Soon, however, Ben and Fieke Meyer were looking for greener pastures and better prospects, and set their sights on New Zealand.
In 1983, they immigrated with 9-month-old Miel, and his older brother and sister, and bought the 141.64ha farm at Temple View. They then built what is now the factory; then the farmhouse and adjoining factory.
Miel learned the business at his parents' knees. "At meal time, Mum and Dad would talk cheese. We grew up with that. You're involved even if you don't think you are, you assimilate it – my kids are in and out all the time and they're the same."
Miel and his siblings helped out between schooling at Koromatua Primary and Melville High, eeling, go-karting, building "stuff", and fixing up a motorbike.
"We had the best of both worlds. While we were at school we worked holidays and weekends but we were paid for working and we worked hard.
"I was a bit different to town kids I discovered when I went to high school. They were more socially developed. They had girlfriends; I was on my motorbike, going eeling."
Miel headed to university, a double major in genetics and microbiology, his masters in forensic science. "I thought 'Yes! I'll never have to work with cheese again'. It had become a chore, but working out in the big bad world I realised cheese was not that bad – it's all about growing up."
Life in labs lost its glow after a while, then he and wife Hayley discovered their eldest son Seb was on the way. "So we came back here for the income; at 24 years old I thought, I'll give it a go.
"I liked the flexibility of working here, and there's a certain personal satisfaction because it is a family business and I have a share in that."
He started out as the cheesemaker then, in 2007, took over as general manager.
"I do miss making the cheese, but I don't have to worry about that side of things now [older brother] Geert has taken over that.
We're a close unit."
Miel gives him – their support crew too – full credit for the awards Meyer Gouda has won, culminating in the 2017 Countdown Supreme Champion of Champions Cheese Award for their smoked goats' cheese.
These days Ben and Fieke have retired to a house further up the hill. Daughter Sophia and her husband manage the farm, its dairy herd and milking shed. Goats' milk is bought in to avoid a conflict of interest with grazing and hygiene.
"I have lunch with Mum and Dad every day, so there's consistent communication and continuity. It keeps things true."
And Miel's passing on the legacy of cheese, hard work and accountability, to his three sons, Seb, now 10, Milan, 7, and Arlo, 5.
They're paid for helping out at the factory, and he and the boys sell produce from a stall at the gate of their home in Ngahinapouri. The honesty stall's proceeds go to petrol for family trips away kayak fishing and camping holidays at the beach.
A trip back to Holland is on the wish list. Miel visited Holland several times as a child, but just once as an adult, enjoying the opportunity to work alongside his father's brother who took over the cheese business there.
His uncle is still getting consistently good results; his Oma is still selling the cheese; and one of his cousins uses the farm's excess milk to make quark.
"It's a real family thing; maybe there's something in the blood. There's continuity even though we're not living on the same side of the world. We can sit side by side and talk cheese. I'd love to go back."
Best of the Waikato
Favourite coffee shop? How do you take your coffee?
I don't have a favourite, in fact I really enjoy trying new and supporting local. Quality coffee is black but otherwise single sugar, milk and a dollop of cream.
Favourite brunch spot? What would you order?
Definitely the Village Cafe in Whatawhata, close to home and it has space. Really nice environment to relax, and also an area where our kids can run around and enjoy their time too. Large flat white and pasta for me.
Melville Park. This was my hangout as a teen and now enjoyed by my own kids who use the skate, bike and basketball facilities.
Best watering hole? What's your poison?
Good George Dining Hall. Not only have these guys supported what we do but they make a fine drop. Pilsner is the one for me.
Best date spot?
This would have to be Taitua Arboretum. Beautiful little spot, and I was married here.
Pirongia's Ruapane Lookout. Yet another great half-day out with the kids. Good walk, finished with a nice view over the area I was raised. And if its summer we go for a dip in the waterhole at Te Pahu.
Where would you take tourists?
We live on the west side of Hamilton City, so a really nice half-day NZ introduction is Bridal Veil Falls, then Raglan coast to finish. A light trip and a really nice way to ease off the jetlag.
A fond food memory from the region?
Hamilton Farmers' Market. I really enjoy taking my kids along and trying new and exciting things that are in season. It's been awesome seeing local producers inspire my kids to eat well and enjoy their food.
Favourite weekend/holiday getaway in the Waikato?
Home! I love being at home, and a quiet weekend at home is as good as any holiday you can think of. Fruit trees, big garden, good food, and quiet space with the family is my paradise.
What are you drinking?
I love water! And so does my family. Straight from the earth, we are lucky to have such great water beneath out feet.
What Waikato product/produce can you not do without this season?
Volare bread. It's always great and helps me make the best grilled cheese sandwich in the world. My absolute favourite is garlic cheese, Volare sourdough, a match made in heaven! Naturally, I'll add whatever topping we pick up at the market or have in the fridge.
Favourite day trip with the kids?
Currently, this would be a fishing trip out from Miranda in the Firth of Thames. The kids and I love fishing and this is close to home. A calm spot to go out with kids, have a swim and catch dinner.
What do you think is Waikato's best-kept secret?
Honestly, the Waikato is a secret in itself. We have it all – from the best west coast fishing to the best dairy country and food that will rival the world's best. There are awesome day walks and parks, and many great things to do across the region. I'm happy to call it home
Image source: Mark Taylor/Fairfax NZ