The local legends at Lewis Road Creamery have built a reputation for their selection of flavoured milks, from chocolate - which infamously sparked a frenzied, nationwide shortage in 2014 - to double caramel butterscotch to banoffee.
Now, the boutique dairy company is launching the latest addition to its repertoire, Winter Spice - a limited-release flavoured milk inspired by Matariki and infused with horopito, also known as pepper tree.
For the uninitiated, horopito is a species of woody, evergreen trees and shrubs that is endemic to Aotearoa. Belonging to the primitive flowering family the Winteraceae, horopito has hot, peppery-tasting leaves due to the presence of polygodial, a compound that also has some anti-fungal properties.
Lewis Road Creamery partnered with Pouarua Farms, which are located on the Hauraki Plains about 35km southeast of the Bombay Hills, to produce the milk as a celebration of Matariki, the rising of the Matariki star cluster and the beginning of the New Year in the Māori lunar calendar. From June 24 this year, Matariki will be recognised as an annual public holiday after the Te Kāhui o Matariki Public Holiday Bill passed its third reading in Parliament last month.
Pouarua Farms, which are jointly owned by the iwis Ngāti Maru, Ngāti Paoa, Ngāti Tamaterā, Ngāti Tara Tokanui and Te Patukirikiri, have been the suppliers of PKE-free - palm kernel expeller - milk to Lewis Road Creamery for several years.
"This is an historic year for Aotearoa with the first official recognition of the ancient event of Matariki. The sharing of kai has always been at the heart of our people's celebrations so we are proud to share our kai with Aotearoa," Paul Majurey, the chair of Pouarua Farms, said in a statement.
The limited-release milk is based on the time-honoured, cold weather concoction of milk and spice, combining native horopito for peppery heat with ginger root, sweet notes of caramel, earthy black pepper and other spices for a warming treat on wintery nights.
The horopito used in the milk has been wild-harvested from Horopito, a locality on State Highway 4 near Mt Ruapehu, noted Prem Maan, Lewis Road's executive chairman.
"I'm allergic to chillies and other nightshades, so I was delighted to discover this indigenous leaf which has a delicious spicy pepperiness, as well as being traditionally used in rongoā [medicine] for its calming and soothing properties," Maan said.
"This is a collaboration for celebration, not for profit. We won't make money on such a short product period - instead we've taken real pleasure in creating something special to share the fruits of our labour, and to celebrate a fantastic national holiday."
Southern Pastures, the owners of Lewis Road, have long celebrated Matariki on their farms as a time to reflect on their role as food producers who live and work on the land, Maan added.
"Matariki reminds us of our responsibility to Papatūānuku, and the fragile envelope of space our Earth sits in. Bringing thanks to our animals, our planet, and to people from our past and present, is embedded in our company's ethos."
Winter Spice Milk has a limited release of 40,000 bottles in June and will be available in supermarkets unless sold out prior.