Cathy is the Lead Cheese Maker for Fonterra Brands and is based in Taranaki at the Eltham Bridge Street site.
What do you do on an average work day?
An average work day for me is attending two brief department directional meetings on the manufacturing floor with the team leaders where we discuss cheesemaking yields [how much is produced] from the previous day and any defects or issues.
Then I usually grade cheese thats coming up for packing.
After this I check on the cheese makers at the vats and discuss the manufacturing schedule and check the farm milk solids etc.
Then I usually check on the cheese in the maturation rooms and discuss any process issues with the floor manufacturing teams in the blue and yellow cheesemaking areas.
At home, I like to paint botanicals in watercolour, read a book, or go to the movies. I also really like collecting antique bits and pieces, as well as getting outside to experience nature, and travelling to the Netherlands and Dubai to see my children.
I do home cheesemaking as well, as I really enjoy exploring how to create new flavours and types of cheeses.
What did you study at school? And after high school?
I studied mathematics, English, geography, typing, book keeping and art at high school. I left after school certificate and then, after working first as a post office teller, found a temporary job as a lab assistant that I really loved. It was in a plant research laboratory at the Ruakura Research Centre and I analysed spray residue in berries and tamarillos.
This led to various lab roles in plant science, then animal health. I started to study high school level science via correspondence, to be able to start an NZCS at Waikato Polytechnic. While doing all of this I had got married and started my family.
Once qualified (NZCS Microbiology and Biology), and after working for several years in technical roles, I took a new position as Client Services Manager for the Ruakura Animal Health Lab. I then did further technical and management roles for veterinary and medical labs and, after completing a diploma in management, became the General Manager for New Zealand Veterinary Pathology Lab in Hamilton.
In the early 2000s, I started making cheese as a hobby in my kitchen. I then tried to find a course and eventually found a farmhouse cheesemaking course at Melbourne University’s Werribee campus and attended this in my own time.
I had a plan to design and build a small cheesemaking business with a view to do this as a part time/weekend job. My cheese then became so popular I decided to leave my General Manager job and make cheese full time.
I was self-employed as cheesemaker for my business, Cloudy Mountain Cheese, for the next eight years. My favourite thing was experimenting with new recipes; I made up to 25 different cheese types and was fortunate enough to win many local and international awards.
All of this led me to my current position as Lead Cheese Maker at Fonterra.
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
Cheesemaking is an art but also a science, so my science studies did help me with my career - in both lab science and cheesemaking.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
Research something you are interested in thoroughly, and don't be too frightened to seek advice from others in similar industries.
Having a mentor is a great help and starting small with a business plan is always best. Surround yourself with positive people, gather customer feedback and embrace the highs and lows - as we all learn our craft by trial and error.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
Definitely completing my NZCS and my post graduate diploma in management with Henley Business College as this helped me to get the technical roles and the general manager job in vet science that I wanted.
I also loved designing and building a small cheesery on my property in Pirongia.
I was really excited to win a bronze medal in the hobby cheesemaking section of the NZ cheese awards many years ago. And it was fantastic to then win several more medals and awards in local and international cheese competitions.
Another highlight for me was successfully securing a role as Cheese Maker/new product development technologist for Fonterra in 2014, and then getting my current role as Lead Cheese Maker with them.
Best of all: the delight I get from people enjoying my cheeses!
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?
Science, engineering, technology and maths are all important fields for New Zealand, as we are a small country that relies on its innovation to compete globally. These STEM industries are extremely important as we go into the future, where sustainable practices and safe environmental processes are important for survival.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
We can offer different ways of thinking, and we bring a different approach and world view to the table. We are half of the population, so of course it is important to use our knowledge and creativity in these fields for future technological advances.
Cathy is the Lead Cheese Maker for Fonterra Brands and is based in Taranaki at the Eltham Bridge Street Site.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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