Cheesy Tips and Christmas Gift Ideas

haloumiConsumable gifts are fantastic at Christmas – you can put lots of love into them, they don’t come with loads of bulky packaging, and you won’t be filling your family’s home with more ‘stuff’ for the sake of the season. Most of us have more than enough in our homes, and we would rather declutter than find places for more nick-nacks and bulky pieces.

Food is always welcome in every home and Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon program had an interesting segment last week about making cheese. What will surprise many people is that it’s so simple, and you don’t have to wait a generation for it to mature – it’s one of those situations where, good things don’t need to take time!

The interview was with Jean Mansfield, a specialist cheese maker from Waihi, who has written heaps of books on the subject and holds cheese making workshops. She explained that some yummy cheeses like feta and haloumi can be made within a matter of hours, and from ingredients bought at your local supermarket.

If you are not familiar with haloumi cheese, then it’s certainly one to try. Jean’s recipe uses four litres of fresh or whole milk, 2ml microbial rennet, a tbsp cooled boiled water, and 1 tsp of plain salt. This will makes 1kg of cheese in 30 minutes – with a 1-2 hour pressing time.

Haloumi is commonly used on the BBQ – when cooked it forms a crusty golden brown exterior but is soft in the centre. We noticed a swanky café had a gourmet lunch of a slice of haloumi over a field mushroom set into puff pastry and baked. It was a +$12 item, which can be made in any oily rag kitchen.

The cheese interview is well worth a listen. Go to and search “Jean Mansfield” and there you will have it. Besides having tasty fresh home-made cheese recipes, there are great ideas for special Christmas presents – including jars of home-made feta cheese, cubed and sprinkled with fresh herbs, in olive oil.

There are loads of other Christmas ideas for food lovers and gardeners.  Giving a tree or plant will be of lasting benefit, and may encourage others to see the value of an oily rag orchard or garden.

Citrus is an obvious tree to give. They don’t mind being in pots so are a great idea for those who are space challenged – or have a spare sunny spot on their patio. For oranges, try a Washington Navel which has a seedless fruit that ripens in late autumn to early spring.

For plants, why not a cherry tomato? They are sweet and kids love them. They too suit pots, and if you plant them now, they will be ready to fruit around Christmas time.

Many varieties of herbs make excellent gifts and look great sitting on a sunny widow sill. For something a little bit different try lemon grass – it makes a refreshing tea, but has many beneficial properties and is often used when cooking poultry, fish, and seafood. Or what about a red hot chilli pepper plant in an attractive patio pot!

Baked goods can also be great presents. Perhaps a bakery basket for a family, or sweet treats for the kiddies – fudge is always popular.

M.G. from Hastings says, “Our wider family got together and decided to limit Christmas gifts to a few dollars per person. That way nobody is too disappointed when they don’t get anything flash. So what can you give for a few dollars:

°          Photos with a message printed across them, from digital machines.

°          Photo frame, brought or home made.

°          Plants grown from seed or cuttings.

°          Home made biscuits, cakes, drinks, etc

°          Personalised pens made by printing names (or something more imaginative), on stickers in a small font. Also make a pen holder to go with them.

°          Glue give away fridge magnets to the back of a small notepad, maybe attach a photo or calendar to the top to personalise it. You now have a handy shopping list to keep on the fridge.

°          A family favourite is chocolate. Look for a mould that has about a dozen deep individual shapes. Slowly melt chocolate in the microwave to coat the sides of the shapes. When they have set fill with a cold ganache, made by heating 100mls of cream and dissolving 100grms of chocolate into it. This can then be flavoured with peanut butter, liqueurs or honey.

°          Kids love to get a plastic glass full of lollies or lolly kebabs.

We think all things made with thought and attention will be appreciated far more than gifts bought in a panic on Christmas Eve!

By Frank and Muriel Newman. Read more here.

You can share favourite tips or questions with readers by contacting us via the website at or by writing to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.