Helen Dorresteyn has a home where the buffalo roam. And the skies, clearly, are not cloudy all day.
That's because Helen and husband Richard's beasts have just, er, brought home the bacon. Their herd of water buffalo are responsible for a top national artisan prize.
The couple's Clevedon Valley Buffalo Company has been named supreme winner in the Cuisine Artisan Awards for its Clevedon Valley Buffalo Yoghurt. These are the reasons the judges deemed it tops: "An outstanding example of European-style yoghurt ... a wonderful texture and creaminess, offset by a pleasing tang," they said.
In other words, this is a yoghurt of great depth and integrity. You swirl it round in your mouth and it says to you: "I will offer you friendship and long-lasting happiness." And so it does.
It is both gifted and talented: performing well either solo or when in company - with sweet or savoury partners. Helen likes it with a good dollop of honey; it's a perfect partner for fruit and marries up well in savoury dips, too. Better still, it's high in calcium and protein but low in cholesterol - so you can eat it with a degree of impunity. And it's well-suited to those with an intolerance to cows' milk.
The award caps three years of trial and effort for Helen - a former teacher - and Richard - who gave up his job as an industrial electrician to turn his hand to full-time cheese making. Like many success stories, the award-winning business was begat of necessity.
Helen, who also runs the Clevedon Farmers Market, south of Auckland, could not get her hands on a regular cheese maker. And cheese, as she explains, is a cornerstone product of a good food market.
That's when Richard stepped up to the plate. "We decided that if we were going to get into this, we might as well make something new," says Helen. So they took the buffalo road. Originally, they imported 18 pregnant buffalo heifers, plus one bull.
That was in 2007. Now they have more than 100 cattle. Many have names: Lois, Molly, Ruth, Daisy, Wanda the Witch. The bulls are called Bill and Rocco and such like. "They're very big, very strong - but not nasty," says Helen.
The Mediterranean milking buffalo come from Australia's Northern Territory. They produce mainly mozzarella plus ricotta and the award-winning yoghurt. The products are available from Auckland to Invercargill. More are in the pipeline. Next they're looking at producing regular quantities of buffalo meat, plus some high-quality, preservative-free smallgoods.
Winning the award is a tremendous boost, says Helen. "A lot of people don't know that buffalo is being farmed and being milked here. "We thought the yoghurt was fantastic. We are thrilled that the experts do, too."
To illustrate the benefits of buffalo, she has provided a beetroot dip recipe that is ridiculously simple to make, but that punches way above its weight as far as flavour goes. It is inspired by Jill Dupleix's Totally Simple Food. You just can't go wrong.By Geraldine Johns