Friday, December 8, 2023

Quality over quantity

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A Canterbury couple who make top quality buffalo cheese faced a tough time during the covid-19 lockdown but now that their market is back, it’s stronger than ever. 
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Everyone has their covid-19 story, but that of Lucy Appleton and Christo Keijzer is arguably more dramatic than most.

As the March lockdown hit, Lucy was still dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s recent death. But as well as mourning her mum, she was having to focus on the future of the couple’s buffalo dairy business, which largely hinged on supplying the restaurant trade with specialty cheeses such as mozzarella.

The gravity of the situation only became apparent as she did the rounds of their regular clients in Christchurch in late March.

“About 95% of our business was through restaurant trade throughout the South Island,” Lucy says.

“When I went into Christchurch to do deliveries, every chef was like ‘Ah, um, can you take some of it back?’ I said ‘Sure, how much?’. They said leave us a tenth.”

As rapidly as the restaurant trade collapsed, online orders grew as they scrambled to rescue the business. Come Easter, a client’s brother who was a website designer and was “bored stupid” set about redesigning their website.

A “clever friend” came up with the name Cheesentials for the products – cheesemaking being an essential business during covid.

“People pay $89.90 and they get a selection with a 20% discount – and it went crazy. Most sales came from Auckland,” she says.

And just to top off the challenging year, a buffalo got its horns stuck in a gate, which was picked up, catapulting Christo into a pole and breaking his arm.

The 40-hectare farm near Glenroy, Canterbury, is named Wairiri after the stream that runs through it and has been a 16-year labour of love for the couple who have only recently been able to devote their undivided attention to it. Lucy did bookkeeping and Christo has been a maintenance engineer at Christchurch Airport.

Born in the Netherlands but disenchanted with the overcrowding in his native land, Christo arrived in New Zealand in 1992 with his eye on a job outdoors. He ended up working in tourism for 10 years before returning to his engineering roots.

Christo’s engineering background has proved indispensable when it comes to maintaining the milking shed and the cheese factory.

“[There were] so many small things that it would have cost a small fortune to bring in a specialist, so I’ve done a lot of it myself,” he says.

Christo Keijzer with his milking buffalo. He is originally from the Netherlands and has an engineering background.

Farm Facts

Company: Wairiri Buffalo Ltd

Owners: Lucy Appleton and Christo Keijzer 

Location: Glenroy, Canterbury

Size: 40ha

Herd: 60

Milking herd: 16

Production: 68,352 litres total a year

Benefits of buffalo milk

Buffalo milk has a higher fat content about 7-8% more than cows at 3-4%, therefore is thicker than cow’s milk. It is heavier and takes time to digest, so keeps you fuller for a longer period of time. 

Buffalo milk contains all nine amino acids and contains 10-11% more protein than cow milk – around 8.5g of protein. This is excellent for building muscles and preventing muscles loss. 

Buffalo milk contains a low amount of cholesterol, which makes it an excellent choice for people suffering from diseases like hypertension, kidney problems, and obesity. It has high amounts of calcium and is also a source of casein-derived peptides that may promote bone health and reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

It is more heat resistant and the rich creamy texture is perfect for producing butter, cream and yoghurt.

If you are looking for a good night’s sleep, drink buffalo milk as it is considered to be sleep-inducing.

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