☰ menu   

Beasts of the Northern Isle


Necessity is the mother of invention—and in 2005, it spurred Richard and Helen Dorrestyn to start New Zealand’s first water buffalo dairy. Helen couldn’t find a reliable cheesemaker to feature at the farmers’ market she founded in Clevedon, so she asked her husband to make cheese to sell instead (there was “constant nagging,” Helen says, with a laugh). Since the country already had goat, cow, and sheep creameries, the couple decided to craft fresh mozzarella from calcium- and protein-rich buffalo’s milk. In January 2007, they flew in bulls and pregnant heifers from Australia and, with the aid of a consultant and advice gleaned from cheesemakers they met at the World Buffalo Congress in Italy, Richard set out to perfect his mozzarella recipe.

“In New Zealand, we’re stuck down at the end of the world,” Helen says. “We suffer—or have suffered, in the past—from what we call the ‘cringe factor,’ when we think anything European or American is so much better than anything we could possibly do.”

But the Dorrestyns believed in their product, and early praise from local press and top Kiwi chefs helped catapult Clevedon Valley Buffalo Company to success and awards. Today, the pair manages a herd of 205 buffalo (various breeds are identified by their distinct horns) and produces flavored yogurt, ricotta, blue cheese, gouda, and more.

Over the years, they’ve invested in breeding to increase milk production and improve temperament. “We don’t have a day off, because we’re always calving,” says farm manager Richard Keast. Still, the youngsters “are the most fun to be with, they have personalities out of this world,” he says. “They come up and want to know you and nudge you.”
 

Farm manager Richard Keast with his charges.

Farm manager Richard Keast with his charges.

 

Buffalo waiting to be milked. The bar over their necks helps prevent infighting. "They are gentle with humans but can be hard on each other," Helen Dorrestyn says.

Buffalo waiting to be milked. The bar over their necks helps prevent infighting. “They are gentle with humans but can be hard on each other,” Helen Dorresteyn says.

 

Richard Dorresteyn tests the strength of stretched curds.

Richard Dorresteyn tests the strength of stretched curds.

 

Helen and Richard with one of their dogs, Tama, at their home overlooking Clevedon Valley.

Helen and Richard with one of their dogs, Tama, at their home overlooking Clevedon Valley.

 

Nelly is a pregnant buffalo that's named after Helen's good friend.

Nelly is a pregnant buffalo that’s named after Helen’s good friend.

 

A four-month-old calf in the pasture makes eye contact.

A four-month-old calf in the pasture makes eye contact.

 

The Dorresteyns' daughter, Saskia, 11, with Mami the buffalo and Sting the pony in the family's paddock. Helen calls Saskia a "country girl," adding, "she'll probably run the company one day."

The Dorresteyns’ daughter, Saskia, 11, with Mami the buffalo and Sting the pony in the family’s paddock. Helen calls Saskia a “country girl,” adding, “she’ll probably run the company one day.”

Brendon O'Hagan

Brendon O'Hagen is one of New Zealand’s most experienced and reliable print photographers with over twenty years experience.