I don’t know what it is about water buffalo. I have such a soft spot for them. Don’t get me wrong – goats, sheep, cows, camels, alpaca. All fantastic farm animals. I enjoy looking at them, eating their byproduct creations, and luxuriating on their fine furs (or woven sweaters!) while sipping snifters of brandy in front of roaring fires. But there is just….something so MYSTICAL about the water buffalo.
For some reason I have not been able to escape the alluring image of a much covered buffalo out of my brain. Perhaps it’s the warming weather. Perhaps it’s the exotic aromas that emerge from the Popeyes/Dunkin Donuts mega-store I pass every morning to get to the J train (I’m not quite sure what exactly comes in the Popeye’s Tackle Box, but it looks exactly like a box of golden. And I REALLY want it. I mean, I could get a Green Shamrock Donut at the same time. I don’t know how I’ve held out for this long, actually…). Perhaps it was Nick Nolte at the Oscars.
All I know, is that I want everything water buffalo. Which began an epic journey into the depths of a special land in the internet known as “Broken English…” But guess what, y’all? The water buffalo is pretty damn dope. Although not as dope as Dunkin Donuts donettes. Damn my morning commute…
So, FIRST thing, I have never thought about how ancient the water buffalo is. It’s like……Land Before Time, Bill and Ted Gotta Save The Babes, pagan Eastern goddess demanding a young virgin on an altar old. They were made into mummies. They were made into statues. They were carved onto shards of old pots. Hella old dudes. As a result, there are a bunch of different kinds of water buffalo – the kind with long horns, the kind with short horns, the kind that are white, the kind that enjoy experimental jazz – the list goes on. But, they all fall under the species, Bubalus bubalis, which is the Latin term for the three major types: river buffalo, swamp buffalo, and wild buffalo. Originating in China and Southeast Asia, these buffalo slowly traveled down the Silk Road, along with luxurious silks, tasty spices, and prickly STD’s. They are hearty animals – sturdy, able to walk far, and don’t eat a whole lot of hay and grain. They can pull great weights and are pretty affable animals, and their little paws are spread in such a way that their heavy bodies don’t sink into the squishy bottoms of swamps and marshes, meaning that they are spectacular for all kinds of agricultural endeavors. People have been using the ding dang things since 2500 BC. So eventually they made it to Europe. A little late, but they got there none the less. According to forced animal migration legend (it’s totally a thing. I’m pretty sure there’s a listserv or something) Crusaders returning from the Middle East were the first to bring water buffalo to Italy. Others say the Gauls. Whoever did it, it was forever ago, and IIIIIIIIIIII LOVE’EM!
Anywho. These Gaul/Crusader hybrids brought the water buffalo to the marsh, swampy, fairly temperate south of Italy, who were super industrious and capitalized on these hearty animals to make a veritable plethora of delicious, rich cheeses. The first mentions of mozzarella can be found in documents dating back to the 11th century – so it’s possible that the cheese is even older than that, but, to be fair to mozzarella, we can say it’s only about 1,00o years old. Widespread production began in the mid 19th century, and only stopped when the Nazis showed up and KILLED ALL THE WATER BUFFALO. Dicks.
Italy seems to have capitalized on the water buffalo more than anyone else on the planet. ”Mozzarella di Bufala Campana” does not only have a DOC status, but also has the fancier and loftier titles of PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and Protected Geographical Status. AND there is an organization of about 200 mozzarella producers who have formed the Consorzio per la Tutela del Formaggio Mozzarella di Bufala Campana (that’s the “The Consortium for the Protection of the Buffalo Cheese of Campania” for you peons who don’t speak fluent Italian…), which sort of seems like the Scientology faction of the cheese making world. So…don’t even try and PRETEND to make buffalo mozzarella. These bitches have it on lockdown.
[Side note: The Consortium claims to have fossil evidence suggesting that the water buffalo came from Italy! But they don't really like to flash it a whole lot. In fact, the only person who can actually see the fossil is the man who founded the Consortium, and it lives at the bottom of his hat, but he had to bury it under a tree in Campania....you get the gist...]
So why all the hubbub over buffalo milk mozzarella? Well….it has to do with how rich buffalo milk is and how little milk an actual buffalo produces. Buffalo milk has twice the fat, yet less in cholesterol, is super high in vitamin C, is generally easy on the lactose, and a herd of water buffalo produce only 1/5th the amount of milk that a herd of cows produces. This shit is literal unicorn blood. Buffalo milk mozzarella tends to be creamier, sweeter, and more flavorful than cow’s milk – it’s so much better that many people in Italy call cow’s milk “fior di latte” and just leave the term “mozzarella” for the stuff made from buffalo. It’s kind of a big deal. But, there are many other cheeses made from this rich milk; Quadrello di Bufala, a taleggio-style, lightly brined cheese that is fairly “gummy” in texture, and sweet, funky, and buttery in flavor. Barliotto di Bufala, a ricotta salata-style number that isn’t salted. Not to mention fresh robiolas that we can’t even get in this country. So sweet! So delicious! Even the meat is better for you than a cow! This stuff is magical! Which brings me to the next topic: why is there only one buffalo farm left in the United States!
Well, one farm that produces milk used in cheese production. A few years ago, it seemed as if there were buffalo farms popping up everywhere! Everyone wanted DOMESTIC buffalo mozzarella, and you could find it fairly easily. But, recently, all the farms seems to have dried up! The one in Vermont moved to Canada? The one in California seems to have just kind of put everything on hold? There is one in Texas that hasn’t updated it’s website in what looks like 11 years. And then there are a few farms that advertise their milk, but seem to be more interested in hockin’ their buffalo meat. What’s going on, yo?!?!?! There is one farm that I got really into researching – the packaging seems to imply that some old lady in Philadelphia is making it for national distribution! But, after clicking around the shockingly flashy website, I stopped to actually read something, and realized that this is a buffalo dairy in Colombia. That is probably fronting for some sort of drug operation. It looks like buffalo milk cheeses require too much land and too much work for small, farmstead cheeses. There is one buffalo farm in Wisconsin that sells to a local cheesemaking facility, but it doesn’t appear that the cheese makes it very far. After working in this industry for nearly four years, I have never seen it, so who knows if it makes it out of the majestic midwest….
So it appears there is a giant hole in the market. Italians have dominated the market. But maybe….JUST MAYBE….one loyal cheese blog reader will buckle down, head out, and make the most delicious, all-American buffalo milk cheeses. And sell them to us so that I can eat it alllllll. Until then, I’m stuck with my mozzarella with an epicly huge global footprint. GREAT. THANKS A LOT ITALY.
Well, there you go. A lot of information about water buffalo and their milk. Don’t you just want to go out and snuggle one? Because I do. And then eat their cheese.
To end, here is a great photo. And a great video. And I swear, this isn’t me making a silly Italian voice after drinking an entire bottle of Cynar. It’s an actual guy. In Europe. Making buffalo fan videos. Good for him!
And now, a propaganda movie from the Consortium. Those darn lazy buffalo! Milking themselves. Eating grass. Lying in mud pools all day. Feeling the flavor of the milk. The height of luxury!
I want one. See you next time, pals!/ No Comments