When Richard and Helen Dorresteyn started out in 2006 to establish a buffalo dairy farm it was an unprecedented venture.
Their idea was to make the famous buffalo cheese mozzarella they had fallen in love with when on holiday in South West Italy.
But first they needed buffalo and there were none in New Zealand at that time.
“We decided to make this cheese and Googled and came up with this Buffalo Bill guy in the Northern Territory,” Helen says.
The pair went to the wild north of Australia, met Bill and his herd and bought five animals from him and a further 50 or so from a nearby government farm which had tried, but failed, to bring buffalo meat to the market.
However, once settled back in New Zealand the herd were not producing milk in economic quantities, Helen says.
“We thought we were going to get more milk from our original animals, and it’s been a long process of intensive breeding to get animals that milk as well as they do now.
“When we first started milking the stock … we were getting three litres a day so we were going broke in a hell of a hurry.”
She says a process of selective breeding since then has lifted production.
While it’s perfectly possible to make mozzarella form cow’s milk, the buffalo variety is in a different league, she says.
“Buffalo milk is quite unique; it’s a different flavour, a different constitution. It’s very sweet, very mild, very clean on the palate.
“Cow’s milk mozzarella is very nice, but buffalo mozzarella is something else altogether.
“It’s a beautiful flavour, but hard won, the milk is hard won.”
Richard is the cheesemaker and earned the ancient craft studying with Italian artisans.
Now they have a herd of 120 buffalo and make cheese twice a week all of which sells out. Helen says proximity is the key to customers getting the product fresh.
“Our factory is 30 minutes from our farm, and the milk doesn’t travel well either, it’s a delicate product.”
Now the Clevedon Buffalo Co makes cheese, yoghurt and ricotta and have won numerous awards.
Helen believes buffalo have great potential in New Zealand and not just for their milk.
“They’ve got great hide, great meat, great milk and they can pull anything. [A buffalo] will never get stuck in a swamp - it will just walk its way out.
“There’s lots and lots yet to do with the buffalo - it’s a journey that’s by no means over.”