Helen Peacocke talks to a cheese expert ahead of her return to her native Antipodes

At the end of the year, Juliet Harbutt, whose name became synonymous with artisan cheese in the 1980s, is packing up her Churchill home in the Cotswolds and preparing to return home to New Zealand after 30 years in Oxfordshire.

The cheese aficionado has been in the UK since embarking on a sabbatical in Europe in the 1970s, having sold the deli-cafe she had set up in Wellington, and then extending her trip somewhat.

Part of this adventure involved attending a cookery school in Paris where she discovered the delights of cheese.

She admits it was a revelation to someone who had grown up with block cheddar.

“I was so smitten by the cheese bug I decided to open a cheese shop in London, and in 1983 set up Jeroboams, the wine and cheese shop in South Kensington,” explained Juliet. Jeroboams was an immediate and novel success, and largely responsible for introducing London to a whole new cheese concept.

Since then, she has devoted her life to encouraging us to try a variety of different cheeses, and so enjoy the complex flavours and marvellous texture this versatile product offers.

Her missionary zeal, coincided with the beginning of a revolution in the cheese world in the 1980s, particularly in Britain, America and Australia where farmers were looking to diversify, and sheep and goat milk became a new ingredient, alongside the more traditional cow’s milk.

Gradually the variety of different cheeses grew, producers adapting old recipes and even ancient monastic manuscripts to help them create some of the superb cheeses we know today.

Obviously cheeses are affected by the geology of the region, climate, choice of animals and the wild yeasts and moulds that exist in dairies and kitchens, each of which affect and enhance the many varieties of artisan cheeses that were developed towards the end of the 20th century.

The challenge of getting to know these new cheeses became a mission that Juliet took on with enthusiasm.

She sold Jeroboams when she realised that selling cheese was not enough. She wanted to find time to help producers launch their flavoursome cheeses, which she did by writing books, conducting cheese master-classes and generally conducting events that gave cheese a larger platform.

After selling Jeroboams, her affinity with all things cheesy lured her to the Cotswolds and by 1994 Juliet had created the British Cheese Awards, which became a labour of love that was to dominate her life for more than 20 years.

The British Cheese Awards, which were held in the Cotswolds until recently, became her raison d’etre, growing year-on-year as the number of cheeses produced in the UK from 296 in 1994 increased to well over 1,000 in 2014.

The prestigious awards are easily recognised as they adorn today’s cheese packaging, and are used by cheesemakers, retailers and supermarkets worldwide.

The annual shows didn’t always go smoothly, however.

Those involved in the judging during 2007 will no doubt remember the devastating floods that swept through Oxfordshire, as rivers and streams broke their banks.

Judges became aware of water trickling over their shoes within a couple of hours of arriving in the cheese tent. Three hours later it was as if they were wading rather than walking from table to table. Any lesser person organising such an event would have thrown their arms in the air and insisted everyone went home.

Not Juliet. Her stoic approach to the devastation that confronted them all was infectious.

Keeping her head above water she calmly encouraged everyone to continue, insisting that the many cheeses on display had been lovingly carried to the tent by producers from all over the country, who had put hours of work into perfecting their recipes.

As far as she was concerned, we could not let them down. The show had to go on, and it did.

Juliet created the Great British Cheese Festival in 2000, but it soon grew out of all proportion, and she felt unable to manage the cheese beast she had created, eventually cutting her ties with the awards and handing the event over to the very experienced team at the Royal Bath & West Show.

She also helped set up the Specialist Cheesemakers Association and has worked closely with Slow Food since 1998.

The accolades that Juliet has accumulated during the 25 years she has been resident in the Cotswolds are impressive. They include Good Housekeeping’s Favourite Food Hero, Cotswold Life Food Personality of the year and Dairy Person of the Year.

Obviously, she has made numerous appearances on TV and radio, including the Radio 4 Food Programme and Simply the Best.

Of course, she has written numerous informative books on cheese too, including The World Cheese Book which won Food Book of the Year in 2010, selling more than 84,000 copies and being translated into nine languages. She has recently rewritten and updated this book by adding new chapters on developments such as Chinese cheese.

Now, however she’s preparing to set sail for New Zealand at the end of the year.

While discussing her forthcoming journey home she explained that she doesn’t intend to stop work, after all she has now built up a list of contacts that spans the world.

The world really is Juliet’s oyster.

“I have made the momentous decision to move back home after 30 years in the UK, but this won’t stop me travelling.

“Naturally I will return to England from time to time as I will seriously miss all the cheesemakers and their cheeses that I’ve come to know whilst living over here.”

Instead, Juliet will be setting up home and business in Hawkes Bay on Black Barn Vineyard where the winter is more like our summers. Apparently the wine and stone fruits are among the best in the world and as two great cheesemakers live close by Juliet will never be short of the food she loves the most – artisan cheese.