Bellefield Butter Co
From starting out in a humble shipping container, to seeing their product on the menus of NZ’s top chefs, Jan and Steve Dolan are setting the gold-standard for kiwi butter.
Like many good things, Bellefield Butter Co came to life through a trying time for the Dolans.
Having emigrated from Liverpool over a decade ago, Jan found work in adult education in the Waikato area, and Steve as a telecommunications engineer. In 2016, they were made redundant within mere weeks of one another, a turning point which – paired with complications after a horse-riding accident - drove the couple towards a major lifestyle change.
Given their backgrounds, starting a butter business may not have been an obvious choice, but Jan and Steve say it was on their radar from early on. ‘It was a childhood memory of mine, seeing my aunt churning butter on the benchtop’ says Steve. The bench in question was on the family homestead in Ireland, where the old family churn can still be found.
The pair set about developing their product, with valuable guidance from butter companies around the world. The end goal was always to show how exceptional butter could be when produced using traditional methods.
‘Not all butter is created equal. We wanted to be the best we could be, which was the cultured butter,’ says Jan. ‘New Zealand is so well known for its dairy, so we wanted kiwis to get the best dairy products out of that.’
So, what is cultured butter? Most readily available butter in New Zealand is the sweet cream variety, made from pasteurised cream that’s churned right away. Pasteurisation is important to take the bad bacteria away, but it also strips the cream of the good bacteria.
The culture in Bellefield’s butter comes from putting the good bacteria back in and letting the cream ripen and slowly ferment, then churning it in small batches.
‘It’s similar to how it was made back in the day,’ says Jan. ‘It’s about putting time, love and nurturing back into the process.’ The result is a much deeper, richer flavour, which she describes as the difference between an artisan sourdough and run-of-the-mill sliced bread.
The Dolans have expanded on that core product with a range of award-winning flavoured butters, some of which have picked up gold medals at the Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards and the NZ Champions of Cheese. ‘The recognition has been unbelievable,’ says Steve. ‘We’ve been blown away by the people we’ve met on this journey.’
Jan and Steve are also heavily involved in NZ’s local food producer scene, with Jan having been on the board of the Waikato Food Producers Collective for almost three years.
‘They needed a producer’s voice, so I joined pretty much straight away,’ she says. ‘When I was teaching, I loved helping people and seeing them progress. I didn’t want to lose that by being in my own business. That passion for collaboration was still there.’
Looking forward, growing the business is Jan and Steve’s key priority. Although they’ve graduated from their shipping container days, the pair see their newest premises as simply a stepping stone. ‘Covid gave us a neon sign,’ says Jan. ‘Once we went back into production we jumped in with both feet.’
As incredible as the award wins have been, they both agree that seeing people taste their products is still the highlight of the job. ‘Speaking to customers at farmers’ markets – we can see how it takes them back,’ says Jan. ‘Someone tried our clotted cream and burst into tears – it took her straight back to her childhood in Cornwall! What an absolute gift to be able to give someone a moment like that.’