Let the good times roll

May 27


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Photo: CHEESE ROLL PARADISE AT WĀNAKA’S CINEMA PARADISO. PHOTO: LAURA WILLIAMSON

The 1964 guide to the small town cheese rolls of the South Island.

THE CHEESE ROLL IS AN EMBLEM OF SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY. CAFES AND DOMESTIC DEITIES HAVE BEEN CLAIMING THEY MAKE THE ULTIMATE ONE FOR DECADES. IT’S A DIVISIVE DEBATE. DO YOU ALIGN WITH THE CLASSIC (GRATED CHEESE FILLING WITH A BIT OF EVAPORATED MILK AND FRENCH ONION SOUP MIX, ROLLED UP IN STANDARD WHITE BREAD, TOASTED THEN SERVED WITH A SLATHER OF MELTING BUTTER ON TOP) OR THE NEW-FANGLED BOUGIE VARIETIES (THINK ALL KINDS OF ADULTERATIONS: ADDED BACON, CRAYFISH, MUSTARD OR CORN, BROWN BREAD, GIANT SIZE)?

The first cheese roll recipes appeared in Aotearoa in the 1930s, but the dish really took off with the growing popularity of sliced bread in the 1950s. (They may be, literally, the best thing since sliced bread.)

DANGER AT DUNEDIN AIRPORT – CHOOSE YOUR ROLL WITH CARE. PHOTO: ANNABEL WILSON

Since then, Southern road trips and school fundraising campaigns have just not been complete without that lovely baton of melted cheddar goodness smooshed into a toasty casing, straight out of the pie warmer or Nana’s oven. They’re comfort in a chaotic world, a home-baked piece of nostalgia, a kitsch dish that is hard to resist.

We sent 1964 contributors Annabel Wilson, Laura Williamson and Helena-Jane Kilkelly out on the road to sample the goods and report back. Here’s a roundup of their findings.

THE CRIB, RIVERTON

Cheese rolls are dubbed “Southland sushi” for a reason. The far south is cheese roll country, and everyone within a 100-kilometres radius of Invercargill has an opinion about them: the ideal cheese-to- bread ratio, the perfect cook-time, whether they should be eaten with fingers or a knife and fork.

The Crib in Riverton serves a rock-solid, old-school roll. Cheese is prioritised over onion, and the healthy dollop of butter is served, unusually, on the side. You, and you alone, control the greasiness. As well as its vintage surf-town vibe, The Crib is known for being an enthusiastic stockist of Foxton Fizz and for sporting a bottle of Rocket Fuel hot sauce on every table. Turns out a splash of spice and a swig of lime soda are the perfect cheese roll accompaniment you never knew you needed. – LW

FIZZ AND FIRE AT THE CRIB. PHOTO: LAURA WILLIAMSON

HEARTLAND JUNCTION, CROMWELL

Stacked enticingly in the cabinet, I couldn’t bypass a sample of a heartland classic at Heartland Junction. These were classically slender, although there was a little residual flattening from heating in the panini press (remember paninis?!). A firm exterior. Creamy within, their flavour was simple, with not too much complexity, as they eschewed the additional seasoning of French onion mix or mustard. The service was friendly and fast: around five minutes to heat and butter. At $2.50 each, there’s no excuse not to buy two! – AW

THE BLACK SWAN, WAIHOLA

Sometimes you just desperately want to love something. For me, it’s the Snail Cheese Roll, an oddity that is cropping up more and more. It’s like two normal cheese rolls made from one really long piece of bread, forming, well, two cheese rolls, but weirdly joined in the middle. My problem with the Snail is that when you liberate the halves from each other, you generally end up with an exposed gooey edge on each, instead of the crispy surrounds that make such a fabulous textural contrast to the melty insides.

The Black Swan in Waihola does its darndest to convert me though. Lots (lots!) of butter, well-toasted bread and a hearty, savoury cheese filling. For this, I can almost forgive the Snail its flaws — but I also reckon if they got rid of the Snail shape these would be absolute Boss Rolls. Yummy, yummy, yummy. Whatever you do, don’t get them to go – that amount of butter is not made for a paper bag. – HJK

BIKE IT NOW, CLYDE

Made by Lisa from Bike It Now’s mother as a fund-raiser for Invercargill Golf Club in Otatara, what a way to start the Otago Central Rail Trail. With a traditional hand- held slim shape, these traditional morsels were easy to eat on the move. Anything you can consume while on a bike has got to be good, right? Especially when it consists of cheese and carbs. Delicious flavour made the Southland way with evaporated milk and onion soup mix. Well-toasted, with outstanding service and a dash of good banter on the side. – AW

“a kitsch dish that is hard to resist”

INDUSTRY LANE EATERY, ALEXANDRA

At this popular Rail Trail stopover, there are a lot of Kiwiana offerings. Lamingtons! Scones! Slice! And, oh yes, cheese rolls. These ones are large, doorstopper style, girthy and gently pressed. A slightly lumpy cheese mix inside a toasted casing provides tasty nourishment, all for $5. A good option any time of day, at this size and price they make a solid breakfast or light lunch, alongside your coffee. – AW

THE INDUSTRY LANE DOORSTOPPER. PHOTO: LAURA WILLIAMSON

F O R U M C A F É , M I L T O N

When my casual enquiry at Forum Café as to whether they had any cheese rolls led
to the statement, “yes, we have THE BEST cheese rolls”, I was impressed, and terrified. That’s a strong opinion to have about anyone’s cheese rolls, let alone your own.

There’s the traditional one slice of sandwich loaf type rolls, and there’s what I call the nouveau behemoth cheese rolls. The ones at Forum sit somewhere in the middle, and they were a perfection I didn’t know I was looking for. Toasted flawlessly, golden brown, a naughty almost-fried texture. Excellent cheesy ooze, with the oh-so- important bang-on ratio of cheese to carb, glistening with butter. OK Forum Café you were right. I have found my new THE BEST. – HJK

DUNEDIN AIRPORT, MOMONA

(A tale of the very, very good, and the very, very bad.)

New Zealand airports are not known for their dining options. However, Dunedin Airport is where you’ll find one of the best examples of the aforementioned nouveau behemoth cheese rolls. There’s a trap, though. While one of the airport cafes has a deliciously toasty, cheesy, satisfyingly golden and utterly destination-worthy roll of the type of integrity it’s hard to have at that size, the other café has the worst cheese roll I’ve had. Size: indistinguishable, because they’ve used the wrong type of bread. The poor thing can’t stay in a roll. I mean, if that’s not the barest of basic qualities in a cheese roll, I don’t know what is. Cheese: rogue, because the roll has unrolled. Experience: scraping congealed yellow off a plate. It’s cheese roll roulette. – HJK


This article is even better in print.


1964: mountain culture / aotearoa is a reader-supported magazine that explores Aotearoa New Zealand’s remote places and the people who seek them out. Working with more than thirty artists, photographers, writers, woodworkers and welders, we advocate for and support Aotearoa’s creatives.

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