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The Locals: The art of buffalo cheeses

20 May 2020
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Lucy took time to learn the art of cheesemaking while the facility was built. Photo: John Doogan Photography.

The Locals is a three-part feature celebrating those who put their heart and soul into handcrafted goods. Want to read the series now? Read it here or grab your copy of Style magazine out now

Out in the Malvern Hills is a herd of Italian water buffalo, producing milk that is turned into mouth-watering cheeses. Wairiri Buffalo’s Lucy Appleton tells her story.

"My favourite buffalo is Daisy; she is named after my grandmother. She was abandoned by her mum – she didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with her, so I was like, ‘Right, this is an opportunity to hand-raise a buffalo.’ We have 50 and all of them have names and are full of character.

We chose Italian water buffalo for our farm because we wanted something that would not only produce a good return, but be good for our soft land with high rainfall. Buffalo have a very wide cloven hoof and they seemed to be very suitable, so that is what we did. We have 100 acres and half is covenanted forest and swampland, so hopefully, we will be carbon neutral or negative. The idea is to have less impact on the planet.

It took about four years to build the facility because we did most of it ourselves. Then, we had to learn everything; how to milk buffalo; what we needed to milk buffalo; how to make cheese; risk management and get the building certified. We went nice and slowly.

While we were building, I needed to go get the knowledge on how to make cheese. It is a bit like if you imagine someone who starts up a car garage and they are not a mechanic; they are probably not that useful. I had to make sure I had the intellectual knowledge and capacity to design and operate a cheese factory.

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The milk produced by the Italian water buffalo is turned into cheese. Photos: John Doogan Photography.

So, I started with a goat and learned to make the basic, easy cheeses. I did a cheese course and learned a lot from my brother-in-law, he’s a microbiologist, and my friend is a chemist. Then, I visited two cheese factories in Italy.

Initially, I thought I would only do mozzarella, but then I realised the milk is incredible for all other cheeses. Like a camembert is phenomenal; any cheese made out of this milk is phenomenal. It is high-end A2 milk, so a lot of people who can’t have A1 milk can have the buffalo milk. Using it in coffee is incredible too. The milk has a silky, light palate, so it is a great base for coffee.

Quite a few Indian people also use the milk to make their own fresh paneer. I was at a market a while ago and this Indian guy was selling vegetables and I had leftover products. I said to him, ‘Here, have this.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Is that buffalo milk?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ His mouth dropped open because he hadn’t had it since he was a child in India! I had six leftover bottles, so I just went and gave him the whole lot and he was stunned.

You can have a lot of fun with Italian stretched-curd cheeses, because what happens, from a scientific point of view, is really quite entertaining.

You can create all sorts of things. With caciocavallo, because it is huge, we need four hands to create it. It is quite interesting working with two sets of hands. There is a real science behind making cheese."

Support Lucy at wairiribuffalo.nz

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