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Adventures in Italy: Mozzarella di Bufala

September 25, 2009

I was sitting uncomfortably on a bus somewhere on the Amalfi Coast in the South of Italy. You could tell which passengers were American by the baggy eyes, drooping smiles and those who had a complete lack of interest in staying awake. I myself was curled up in a ball in my seat, unsuccessfully trying to form a cocoon to shield myself away from the rays of the sun growing brighter and brighter. My headphones and bug-eyed sunglasses did nothing to block out the sounds of rapid-fire Italian and the ominous clanging and banging from beneath the bus that had me feeling less than confident.

Again and again, I found myself asking, “Why? Why am I on this horrible bus on a Saturday morning, zooming around sharp corners, barely missing the colorful Vespas trying to squeeze by?”

I’ll give you three (Italian) words: Mozzarella di bufala.  Otherwise known as buffalo mozzarella, this is a mozzarella cheese made from the milk of a domestic water buffalo and not from a cow. I got to meet some of these lovely animals immediately upon arriving at our destination, a buffalo mozzarella factory:

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I remember that it was quite odd to keep referring to them as “buffalo.” In America, the word brings about images of caveman drawings and cowboys lassoing big, mammoth-sized beasts as they run across the fields of the mid-west while the song “Born Free” plays in the distance. As you can see, these guys looked like they should all be wearing a bell around their necks and answering to the name Daisy.

The factory was blessed with a backdrop of acres and acres of rolling green hills that seemed to stretch right on into the Mediterranean Sea. It was the kind of green you see right before it rains, or on the first day of spring after a really harsh winter. The only part of the land that wasn’t green was the pen where the cows…I mean, buffalo were kept, which was on a big plot of dirt. They could roam about and relax under the few trees that dotted the field, but only when supervised. Their caretakers would lovingly pet them to calm them down during feeding time, and you could tell there was a real bond between them.

The factory itself was much newer and much more modern looking than I expected. High ceilings, lots of white walls with no scuff marks or spots. It seemed like a cross between a dentist’s waiting room and the hall of some important building. Once we were introduced to the staff, a group of shy men with tans that you can only get from working outside 24/7, we went into the machine room to find out how buffalo mozzarella is made…

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Made entirely of whole buffalo milk, it is inoculated with a starter culture of the previous day’s whey. After about 30 minutes the milk begins to coagulate and the cheesemaker breaks the curd into small pieces to ripen for 5 hours, after which time the curd is transferred to a boiling vat for stretching. It is sold either in baseball-sized balls, or in smaller balls called bocconcini…No matter what form it takes, mozzarella di bufala has a slightly sour tang that is offset by a creamy, milky bite. (via)

And you can shape it into your favorite ladies hairstyle!

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But seriously, that’s some superb cheese right there. It’s a lot more dense and watery than the mozzarella cheese we’re used to in the US, but buffalo mozzarella has a certain kick to it that keeps you coming back for more. It’s a staple of Napolitano-style pizza, and “is often served on its own, accompanied by a slice of grilled bread and perhaps a simple salad.” (via)

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Believe me when I use words like “dense” and “heavy” to describe it. I ate both of those little mozzarella di bufala balls pictured above, but I felt like a float in the Macy’s Day Parade right after.

Am I glad I peeled myself out of bed after a hazy night out on the town to go fill my stomach with buffalo mozzarella? Of course I am. I’ve searched high and low to find something similar to this wonderful food here in the States, but I’ve come up short.

If you ever find yourself on a bus on the Amalfi Coast before the sun comes up, let me give you some advice: don’t be cranky. You might just be on your way to a buffalo mozzarella factory, and that’s a great situation to find yourself in.

– Alison

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 25, 2009 9:35 pm

    I enjoyed your interesting story – thanks for sharing. I notice they let the cows, er, buffalo, keep their horns. Must be fairly docile creatures.

    -Steve

  2. October 7, 2009 12:57 am

    Hi Alison

    I’m making mozzarella di bufala in a country town in Australia. There are 3 milking herds in Australia, one of which is in Maleny in Queensland. Mine is a fresh hand made product that I sell (very quickly) at markets and to local restaurants. Appreciation of this unique cheese is growing here with lots of people knowing what to do with it…. tomato, basil, olive oil…. say no more.

    Trevor

    • October 7, 2009 2:50 pm

      Hi Trevor,

      That is wonderful news! I sure your product must sell like crazy.

      PS. I lived in Queensland on the Gold Coast for a bit, Australia will ALWAYS have a piece of my heart!

      – Alison

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