You may not have heard of the Haldane family but they've played a big role in expanding Australians’ palate.
From bringing in the first commercial herd of alpacas to starting the tuna fishing and prawn industries in Port Lincoln, South Australia, the Haldane helped to break new ground in Australia’s food industry.
But Roger and Sue Haldane didn’t stop there, and in 1995 they kick-started Australia’s buffalo cheese industry by importing the first milking buffalo into Australia.
Their daughter, Thea Royal, now runs the company, Shaw River Buffalo Cheese, which produces the notoriously difficult-to-make buffalo mozzarella.
“They’ve always been people who saw opportunities and never really understood the word ‘no’ or that you can’t do something. They always managed to find the enthusiasm and drive to push through and make these things happen,” Royal says.
Shaw River Buffalo Cheese is based in Yambuk, about 40 minutes west of Warrnambool in western Victoria. It’s very much a family affair, with Royal running the business side of things as general manager, her husband, Andrew - a cheese maker - runs the factory, and Royal’s sister, Amy, looks after animals on the farm.
Amy, along with her and Thea’s other two other sisters, Erin and Skye, also work across marketing, promotions and cheese taste-testing.
“When we first started, we were only selling very small amounts of cheese, because there wasn’t an established market here for it. It took us a very long time to educate people in how to use buffalo cheese,” Royal says. “We grew alongside the market.”
Even Italian cheesemakers, brought out from Italy to help with the initial cheese-making process at Shaw River, couldn’t successfully work with the local buffalo milk from the Haldane’s herd.
Buffalo mozzarella has been labelled the ‘queen of Italian mozzarellas’ and is considered such a difficult cheese to master that The New York Times dubbed failed US attempts at doing so “a dream so exotic and powerful that it drives otherwise sensible people into ruinous monomaniacal quests”.
Even Italian cheesemakers, brought out from Italy to help with the initial cheese-making process at Shaw River, couldn’t successfully work with the local buffalo milk from the Haldane’s herd. Instead, they worked with Nick Haddow, from Bruny Island Cheese, who travelled across Italy with Roger Haldane to learn directly from cheesemakers.
Buffalo milk has about twice the fat as cow milk, which makes it much creamier and is packed with flavour.
“None of the cheesemakers in Italy would give them their recipe but because Nick had enough knowledge, he was able to observe things and pick up enough ideas and clues from each place to put together a recipe - and we’ve built from that,” she says.
Buffalo milk has about twice the fat as cow milk, which makes it much creamier and is packed with flavour. Cheesemonger and author Steven Jenkins once described it as “when cut, it will weep its own whey with a sweet, beckoning, lactic aroma”.
What makes Shaw River’s buffalo cheese successful, Royal says, is that they work with the seasons and agricultural conditions that their herd of water buffalo live amongst.
“We’ve adapted the recipe to our own milk; our milk is different to what people in Italy use because of our grasses and our farming techniques.
“A lot of Italians tell us that our product is more of the tradition they used to have many years ago than what they do now.”
In the 20 plus years since the company was established, they’ve branched out into yoghurt, curds and several other cheeses, including ‘Annie Baxter’ (pecorino/romano-style), smoked buffalino and ‘buffetta’ (feta). They’ve also taken out multiple awards, including gold, silver and bronze at the 2017 International Cheese Awards.
Roger Haldane makes some of the buffalo cheese every week and Royal says he’s always thinking up new recipes and ways of using their raw ingredients.
Ainsley Harriott visits Shaw River Buffalo Cheese on episode 2 of the brand-new season of Ainsley's Australian Market Menu. Catch it at 7:30pm this Thursday and every week to 14 November on SBS, catch up on SBS Food at 7:30pm Sundays, or stream on SBS On Demand. Visit the Market Menu website for recipes, the episode guide and more.
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