The history of the buffalo and cheese
This is a question we often get asked and there is never a simple answer. The history of the buffalo and cheese making business is linked to all the other pioneering and farming actives the family have been involved with. Brothers Roger and Clyde Haldane started out fishing for tuna, before buying their own prawn boat. When they eventually turned their focus to the shore, they became farmers whom were involved with at least 25 different species of livestock that Roger can remember, including angora goats and alpacas.
Through their involvement in alpaca imports a great partnership with an American company formed and naturally the Haldanes ended up with a herd of 70 swamp buffalo from the Northern Territory. The swamp buffalo didn’t do so well in Victoria & the original idea of farming them for meat was put on hold. Swamp buffalo do not produce enough milk to make it worthwhile milking them. Researching other options they discovered the extensive buffalo dairy industry which exists throughout Asia, and parts of Europe and South America. India is the worlds largest milk producer with about 2 thirds of their milk production coming from buffalos.
Many of the larger buffalo milking nations such as India, Pakistan and Venezuela are poorer nations and most of their production is consumed on a local village scale. The Riverine buffalo from Italy and their use in cheese production were of particular interest to Roger and Clyde.
An initial trip to explore the potential options took the brothers to Florida where they were given contacts in Italy and Bulgaria. Their efforts to contact the Italians were fruitless so they travelled blind to Naples, which they had read was the centre of the buffalo milking region, and then on to Bulgaria.
Eventually with the help of an Italian farmer here in Australia they were able to make enough significant contacts to arrange the purchase of buffalo from Italy. Forty two were brought out in a shipment via Denmark and in 1996 a further 24 buffalo from Bulgaria joined the first Australian water buffalo milking herd.
Once the herd started to calve and produce milk then came the huge learning curve of how to turn the beautiful milk into cheese. Obviously we got there eventually, but it was a challenge involving more trips back to Italy, the help of some amazing cheese makers, plenty of trial and error.
The Herd and production
We now have about 400 head of buffalo with approx 250 of those active in the milking herd, which are milked once a day. Buffalo traditionally were milked on small farms where once a day milking was the norm. Milking once a day produces high cheese yields and the best quality mozzarella. The bonus of a once a day milking flow into lower stress levels for staff and stock, cows are healthier and have much longer and happier lives. Many of our buffalo are in their 16th year of lactation. The average milking life of a dairy cow is about 4 years.
In 2013 we are currently producing about 800 ltrs per day which we process through the factory 4 times a week. We only make Mozzarella to order so any excess milk is made into yoghurt or hard cheese. During winter we try and fill up our maturation rooms in anticipation for the warmer weather when Mozzarella demand is at it’s peak.
The Shaw River herd is the only 100% pure Riverine Buffalo herd in Australia. Our foundation herd came originally from Italy and Bulgaria. Don’t confuse them with the Swamp buffalo which roam the Northern Territory and probably best known from their cameo in the movie Crocodile Dundee. Swamp buffalo are more suited to meat production or draught power than dairy. No connection either with the American buffalo or bison. Permits are required in Australia to own and farm water buffalo.
This is a swamp buffalo – it has 48 chromosomes, big wide horns and usually a lighter coat with white on its chest and legs.
And this is a riverine buffalo from our herd. There are several types of Riverine buffalo which can have different horn shapes and build, but they all have 50 chromosomes. The riverine buffalo have a docile friendly temperament making them ideal for handling and milking.
You can breed the swamp and river buffalo together which does result in fertile offspring with 49 chromosomes.
Riverine water buffalo have been domesticated for at least 1000 years. The Campania region of Italy is famous for its waterbuffalo herds and dairy industry. Water buffalo are also milked in many Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, where fresh yoghurt and stretched curd cheeses made from buffalo milk are common place.
Buffalo milk is a bright white colour as the buffalo convert the keratin in milk ( that’s what makes cows milk yellow) to Vitamin A. This makes is easier for our bodies to digest.
Buffalo milk has a naturally mild, sweet taste.
Buffalo milk is 30% lower in cholesterol than cows milk and is a rich source of Calcium, protein and vitamins. It is also 2 to 4 times higher in antioxidants.
Buffalo milk yields nearly twice as much cheese per litre compared with cows milk. So to produce 1 kg of cheese you would need 8 – 12 litres of cows milk, compared with only 4.5 litres of buffalo milk.
Buffalo milk may provide a delicious alternative for people suffering from an intolerance or allergy to cows milk products. It is similar to goats and sheep milk in this way. We have many customers who based on their experience have found this to be so. For those who don’t necessary enjoy the taste of sheep and goat milk, buffalo milk may be a milder more palatable option.
( Please consult with your health care professional to see if this might be a viable option for you. )
Because of the way a buffalo’s udder is designed they are far less prone to mastitis infection. As a result we don’t need to use antibiotics in the dairy. The buffalo are a pretty healthy bunch and it is rare to have any illness or calving problems requiring a vet or human interference.
At Shaw River we only use fresh, 100% buffalo milk in our products. Our buffalo make the milk and we make the cheese.