Where the (Water) Buffalo Roam
If you’ve never been nose to nose with a water buffalo, you’ll have to take my word that these magnificent creatures, with their shaggy hair, long eyelashes and sweet round eyes, mean you no harm. “The only way they could hurt you is by loving you to death,” says Darrel Archer, who, along with his wife Anthea and son Richard, operates Canada’s first water buffalo dairy in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island.
The Archers milk the buffalo every day, which is a full-time job for the three of them. “When they’re being milked, they love having their faces and necks rubbed and scratched. They close their eyes in complete ecstasy,” says Darrel.
The dense, creamy buffalo milk is sent to the Natural Pastures Cheese Company in Courtenay, where Master Cheese Maker Paul Sutter oversees its transition (including hand-stretching) into porcelain-white mounds of buffalo mozzarella. Natural Pastures has been producing Mozzarella di Bufala Fairburn for four years, and has already garnered a handful of awards — including third place at the British Empire Cheese Show.
The water buffalo dairy is at Fairburn Farm, which was purchased by Darrel Archer’s parents in 1954 (one year later, they formed the Vancouver Island Organic Co-operative — the first in Canada). Darrel and Anthea took over the farm in 1978. In the farm’s 120-year history, no chemical pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones or antibiotics have ever been used.
The Archers have raised sheep and cattle in the past. It was their search for an animal that would thrive on local vegetation and yield a unique product that led them to import Canada’s first herd of water buffalo from Bulgaria in 2000. These are river buffalo, originally bred in Asia for milk production, and are very different from North American buffalo, which are actually bison.
Buffalo mozzarella is a popular summer cheese, but as Darrel Archer says, “it tastes just as good in winter.” Thankfully, Natural Pastures produces it year-round. “Natural Pastures told us we could never send them too much milk,” says Darrel. The cheese can be served at room temperature in salads, such as Caprese. It’s also an excellent melting cheese — in grilled sandwiches, pizza, and lasagna, or stacked with grilled vegetables and baked in the oven.
This April, the Archers’ daughter Maryann, along with her husband, will re-open the doors of the 19th century farmhouse, and operate Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse. Bed and breakfast will be offered, as well as packed lunches. The Archers want visitors to explore the Cowichan Valley area, and their 130-acre property of forest, farmland, creek and walking trails. “With the farm stay, we want to encourage people to come and participate and enjoy the farm itself — and get a feel for getting back to the land,” says Anthea.
Natural Pastures Mozzarella di Bufala Fairburn can be found at select stores across Canada — check www.naturalpastures.com for a location near you. For more information on the Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse, go to www.fairburnfarm.bc.ca.