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Episode 12: A Taste of Italy

Richard and Helen Dorresteyn with their milking buffalo. Photo by Kerryanne Evans.

Buffalo graze on Richard and Helen Dorresteyn's Clevedon farm.

Helen and Richard Dorresteyn with one of their milking buffalo. Photo by Kerryanne Evans.

Originally screened on 1 May at 7pm on TV ONE.

Watch this episode now at Ondemand.

A Taste of Italy

Driving through the Clevedon Valley near Duder Park, you might think the stock you see, with their wide horns and thick-set bone structure, are all cattle.

But some of the majestic animals roaming the pastures are water buffalo - an animal scarcely known here, but much revered in Asia and southern Europe.

Their arrival here was a bold move by a couple who wanted to try something unusual - making traditional Italian-style mozzarella cheese in New Zealand.

Helen and Richard Dorresteyn set up the Clevedon Village Farmers' Market five years ago.

They never intended to run their own stall, but Helen had problems finding a cornerstone cheese maker for the market - someone prepared to make cheese from locally-sourced milk and commit to turning up every Sunday, rain or shine.

The couple had fallen in love with the taste of fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese on a trip to Italy and Richard decided he'd give it a go here.

But to make traditional mozzarella, you need buffalo milk - so the Dorresteyns imported around 60 buffalo heifers and bulls from Australia's Northern Territory.

The couple had no farming experience and no-one could tell them how the buffalo would fare here.

"The first winter we didn't know if they were all going to keel over," Helen says.  "We could only watch them and see what would happen."

The unusual stock have thrived and three years on, the Dorresteyns run a herd of more than 100.

The couple employed a farm manager who currently milks 30 buffalo every day except Sunday, when Richard takes over.

Twice a week Richard makes fresh mozzarella, ricotta and yoghurt in an old butchery the former electrical engineer has transformed into a cheese factory.

Helen says they were determined from the start to make the best-quality mozzarella - but getting it right has taken a lot of tenacity.

"Day after day we'd come to the factory and make cheese, only to find out the batch didn't work and we had to throw it out," she says.

But after three years of effort and three trips to Italy to learn the tradition from craftsmen, she believes they're close to perfecting the process.

More info
- Clevedon Valley Buffalo Company - the Dorresteyns' cheese.
- Clevedon Farmers' Market.