KaiJune 10, 2024

No Country for Cheese Scones: A love letter to the elusive Kiwi delicacy


Would you still move to Melbourne or London knowing it’d be a cheese-scone-less life? Bryer Oden talks to New Zealanders abroad pining for a Kiwi cafe favourite.

In Wellington, to call cheese scones elusive would be to call the wind elusive, or rich ladies in quilted jackets, or psych students, or Doc Martens. That is to say, at any given time you’re no less than a few hundred metres away from a piping hot cheese scone (as long as it’s before 2pm, as for some ungodly reason cafes are for “morning people”).

However, the Kiwi classic that you find stacked high in every cabinet is not as common as you think – it turns out as soon as you wave goodbye to Gandalf at the airport, you’re also waving goodbye to your favourite mid-morning staple. That’s right, you heard it here first: Australia “doesn’t do” cheese scones (at least not to anywhere near the degree Wellington does). 

A selection of cheese scone-related messages in my DMs (Image: Bryer Oden)

I found this out by accident. After a gruelling (not really) month of doing Veganuary (vegan January), I was over the moon to be able to finally get my mitts on a “real” cheese scone. I posted a photo on my foodie Instagram account healthsensation with the caption: “I have been waiting to have a cheese scone for over a MONTH.” How petulant, how pathetic this statement then became when my friend Madi replied, “Sydney has no cheese scones!! I have been waiting for a WHOLE YEAR!!!!!”

I can’t believe that this is how I found out that, much to the chagrin of New Zealanders who have moved across the ditch, savoury scones do not have the same presence overseas as they do in Aotearoa. 

My friend Jemima (an Australian) revealed to me that she thought cheese scones were “so weird” when she first moved to Wellington, but one of her flatmates worked at Pravda and over time she grew to love the endless stockpile of them in the freezer. Now living in Norway, she told me, “I think I’m being influenced to brave -11° to go and get the ingredients to make cheese scones.” I have nothing but admiration and respect for those who have to trudge uphill in the Norwegian snow to get a cheese scone, and I am now feeling guilty that in New Zealand I can just waltz into the nearest food establishment and be on my merry way. 

For those of you who want cold, hard facts about this scone situation, I took STATS192 and I’m ready to rumble. According to data from Google Trends, we can see that searches for a “cheese scone” in Australia are scarce compared to the number of New Zealanders searching for their favourite mid-morning snack:

Google search trends show New Zealanders have more interest in cheese scones than Australians do.


Don’t ask me what happened in August. Maybe there was a torrent of New Zealanders moving to Oz who were met with confusion at the lack of cheese scones and needed to convince themselves they didn’t make them up. Or maybe one person skewed the stats when they spent a dream-like montage researching them with the same fervour as Bella Swan researching vampires in Twilight.

But wait, the plot thickens: they’re not particularly common in the UK either. The scone is believed to have originated in Scotland in the 1500s and arrived in Aotearoa with the first settlers. As The Spinoff reported in 2019, adding cheese to scones in New Zealand only started to find favour in the 1930s, and from then on they were embraced (at least south of Auckland). While cheese scones can be found in Scotland – usually served with soup or even haggis – they’re something of a rarity in England.

This news has shocked me to my core. The word “scone” itself drums up images of Queen Elizabeth II hosting a tea party, plying her guests with doughy goodness with a side of crumbs for the corgis. However, as we can see from an event that DailyMail refers to as “Sconegate”, the English are busy waging wars about whether jam or cream should go first – and the question of “sweet or savoury” doesn’t even come into the equation.

New Zealanders abroad lamenting the lack of cheese scones (Image: Bryer Oden)

As you can see in this Google Ngram search, when comparing the frequency of the word “scone” versus “cheese scone” in a corpus of English books from across the decades, cheese scones barely register. 

The frequency of the word ‘scone’ vs ‘cheese scone’ across all searchable English language text.

Honestly, how can they still be members of the Commonwealth when the greatest wealth we have is not even common? Sweet scones seem to be plentiful abroad – but not even date ones. You’re more likely to find raisin or random variations such as glacé cherry, blueberry or Nutella. If New Zealand is worried about the “brain drain,” maybe Tourism New Zealand needs to promote the fact that cheese scones are mythical creatures overseas. Perhaps then, fewer people would abandon ship.

In the depths of this investigation, I found out some even more shocking truths. The world does not revolve around us. I am not so naive that I thought the Kiwi classics could be found overseas (RIP New Zealand Marmite, Pineapple Lumps, and mince and cheese pies); however, there seems to be a whole subset of basic household ingredients that don’t appear to exist elsewhere. Francisca couldn’t find baking powder in Switzerland, Annika couldn’t find malt biscuits in Scotland, and Jess couldn’t find reduced cream in America. There are no English muffins in Denmark, no hundreds and thousands in Norway, and most parts of Australia don’t have feijoas or onion soup sachets. Even international brands aren’t necessarily popular overseas – perhaps the reason people in England are obsessed with a post-town kebab is because they’ve never had Indomie noodles before. How are New Zealanders abroad supposed to take on the feat of educating their friends when they are robbed of the tools they need to instil a much-needed dose of Kiwiana?

What other great Kiwi snacks is the world missing out on? (Image: Bryer Oden)

If you’re feeling especially cynical, you may be thinking, “who cares about scones?”. Well I do, and so do the reams of New Zealanders who flock to cafe cabinets every day. 

Francesca, who used to be the manager of a central Wellington cafe, dearly misses her proximity to cheese scones now that she is back in Europe. She theorises that scones are popular not only for their taste, but for their convenience. She said that “scones were the most common items” at the cafe, and believes this is due to how “they are very easy and quick to eat, perfect for taking away but also for an office meeting. If you don’t have time for eggs or stuff like that, a cheese scone and a coffee is the perfect breakfast.”

Maybe it’s the hustle and bustle of city life that cements cheese scones firmly in Wellingtonian culture. They are hotly debated among friends, and the subject of many a workplace ranking session. The foodie community often go on quests to rate scones based on cheesiness and texture, and there are even sconespiracies about how some of our favourite scones are manufactured by the same company and shipped out to different cafés without us realising (no, I will not name my source). 

On the back of all of this discourse, I decided to take it upon myself to review as many scones as possible for my food account and find “Wellington’s best scone” for once and all. I thought this would be a simple task – however, when I asked for cheese scone recs from my followers, I think practically every single cafe in the city was recommended to me. 

While pondering how this could be true and which sconnoisseurs were lying, the real truth of the mysticism and magic behind the iconic baked good was revealed: by and large, people’s favourite scone is probably the one closest to their house, or their work, or at the cafe they like to hang out at the most. 

A cheese scone is not supposed to be a culinary work of art. It is humble, warm and filling. It’s meaningful in the way ratatouille is meaningful in the 2007 comedy/fantasy Disney Pixar film Ratatouille (sorry for the spoiler). The cheese scone is a signifier of home, of the vast possibilities of the weekend stretching out in front of you, of a morning spent in good company, of the ancient human desire to combine dough and cheese to feel joy. The scone is irrevocably intertwined in the fabric of our daily lives. Maybe the real cheese scone was the friends we made along the way.

The moral of this story is: if you’re planning to move abroad in the near future, you’d better get your hands on a good recipe stat – because the responsibility of baking your own and spreading some Antipodean joy has now fallen on your shoulders. Until then, keep your scones close to your chest and appreciate them in all their golden, nearby glory. 

Keep going!