Just three years after importing 18 pregnant water buffalo from Australia, a Clevedon couple has won the ultimate food accolade – being named by Cuisine magazine as producers of the best artisan product in NZ.

Helen and Richard Dorresteyn’s Clevedon Valley Buffalo Company is the supreme winner in the 2010 Cuisine Artisan Awards, sponsored by Caffe L’affare, for its Clevedon Valley Buffalo Yoghurt. Judges said it was an outstanding example of European-style yoghurt and had a wonderful texture and creaminess, offset by a pleasing tang.
 
The yoghurt’s exceptional quality is largely due to the distinctive properties of buffalo milk, which contains about twice the solids of ordinary cow’s milk. As a result the velvety thick-set yoghurt can be made with no additives required – just the milk and culture. But it’s also due to the tenacity of Helen and Richard Dorresteyn, who first began milking their new herd just three years ago. They focused on mozzarella cheese, seeking guidance from Italian cheesemakers, before having enough milk to start producing their “mind-bogglingly good” yoghurt on a commercial scale.
 
Getting the right answers to their questions and perfecting their products hasn’t always been easy, says Helen. “It’s been a very tough few years.”
 
But recognition of their yoghurt’s excellence by Cuisine magazine has made all the effort worthwhile. Cuisine Artisan Awards head judge Fiona Smith said the buffalo yoghurt was chosen from a short-list of 36 products, which judges taste-tested in December.
 
“This was the second year of the Cuisine Artisan Awards and judges were really put through their paces to select a supreme winner,” she said. “Last year we were impressed by the quality of the entries; we were even more impressed this year. “From specialty ice-cream to artisan breads, from fresh snails to pâtés and pickles, the entrants covered a wide range of products and were all superb – New Zealand’s artisan food producers are getting better year by year.”
 
South Island contestants dominate this year’s Cuisine Artisan Awards, producing eight of the 12 top products, including the two runners-up, which both come from Canterbury companies. One runner-up is New Zealand Artisan Wild Thyme Honey – one of several single-source, single-variety honeys made by Christchurch-based J. Friend and Co. Judges commended this honey, made from wild thyme growing in rugged Central Otago, for being beautifully blended and keeping what can be the overwhelming taste of thyme in check.
 
The other runner-up is Addmore Products’ Elderflower Cordial, produced in Geraldine, South Canterbury. One judge described it as “cordial for grown-ups”, while another suggested it could be used to brush over a just-baked cake.
 
Other finalists included Kohu Rd Golden Syrup Ice Cream, from Auckland; Ringawera Spiced Lavash, from Waiheke Island, Auckland; Karikaas Natural Dairy Products Unsalted Cultured Butter, from Loburn, North Canterbury; Mariano’s Spanish Goods Fresh Chorizo, from Christchurch; Horseradish New Zealand’s Mandys Horseradish, from Christchurch; Rachel Scott Bread’s Ciabatta, from Amberley, North Canterbury; Proper Food’s Proper Crisps, from Upper Moutere, Nelson; Picot Productions’ Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter, from Nelson; The Damson Collection’s Damson Paste, from Hawkes Bay.
 
Artisan producers make handmade or individually crafted products, generally on a small scale and often according to traditional practices. Frequently they sell their produce through one or more of New Zealand’s 50 farmers’ markets. To qualify for the Cuisine Artisan Awards businesses must produce food or drink products and have an annual turnover of less than $5 million to 30 September 2009.
 
Caffe L’affare marketing manager and judge Jessica Godfrey said the standard of the entries reinforced the specialty coffee producer’s belief in the quality of New Zealand’s artisan producers.
 
“Our country has a vibrant community of small local producers who are driven by a passion to use only the highest-quality ingredients to make the best-possible products,” she said. “The foods that we tasted for judging represent the highest echelon of those products, and the winner is truly the crème de la crème.”
 
Profiles of all the award-winners and finalists feature in the March issue of Cuisine, on sale from 22 February. Food lovers have the opportunity to meet the artisans and taste their winning products at Auckland’s CheeseFest event next month (Langham Hotel, March 3). Winning artisan products will also be available for tasting at Auckland’s Farro Fresh store on 4 March, from 12 noon to 2 pm.

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