Buffalo mozzarella has a porcelain white color and is known as the pearl of the table. It’s a flavorful fresh stringy textured cheese with a very thin rind. When you cut into it its delicious white milky liquid seeps out. Buffalo mozzarella is typically made into round shapes often weighing 1 kg each. Sometimes it’s made into smaller bite-size shapes or braids. You’ll sometimes find it smoked: usually a dryer version.
What is buffalo mozzarella made from?
Delicious milky and soft buffalo mozzarella cheese is made from Italian water buffalo milk. The Italian water buffalo is not to be confused with the North American concept of a buffalo which is actually a bison.
Where is buffalo mozzarella made?
Buffalo mozzarella is made throughout Italy but the primary areas of production are central and southern Italy, especially the Campania region as well as southern Lazio where Rome is located, Puglia and Molise.
Buffalo mozzarella is also made in a number of other countries worldwide including Switzerland, the United States, Australia, Mexico, Canada, China, the United Kingdom and a number of South American countries including Venezuela, Argentina and Colombia.
Making buffalo mozzarella
Why Italian buffalo mozzarella is indisputably the best
It’s undisputed that Italian mozzarella is the best and that depends so much on climate and Italy‘s old world approach to buffalo mozzarella production. In Italy it’s quite natural to expect that your cheese is made locally on the same day that you purchase it.
Additionally, because water buffalo are a psychologically fragile animal Italian producers dedicate lots of time and attention to how they are raised and cared for. Otherwise the end result is that the animals produce much less milk.
The production process
The term mozzarella comes from the Italian word mozzare which means to cut by hand: the process of separation of the curd into small balls.
Raw buffalo milk is stored in steel containers and the cheese production process first involves heating the milk, curdling by introducing natural whey, then allowing the curd to mature until it reaches a pH level of about 4.95. Next the cheese goes into the spinning process and hot water is poured on the curd to soften it. This yields what is known as the pasta filata or a soft stretchy cheese form. Then the cheese is shaped by using a special rotating shaper machine. It’s then cooled down in cold water and pickled in pickling tubs with the original whey. The final step is packaging.
There are dozens upon dozens of artisanal buffalo mozzarella producers in Italy. When the cheese is produced on a small artisanal scale much of the process is done by hand – literally!
Although it’s no longer common, mozzarella used to be sold floating in its own liquid in large several gallon containers. The mozzarella was then scooped out of the container at the retail outlet and placed in a plastic bag with some of the liquid. Nowadays due to EU regulations mozzarella is pre-packaged at the production facility before distribution.
Italian buffalo mozzarella has DOC and DOP status
Buffalo mozzarella from the Campania region has had DOC status since 1993. Additionally it was granted DOP status in 1996 by the EU. This means that it can only be produced in Campania, Lazio, Puglia and Molise using a traditional recipe.
Other water buffalo products
When you get into the major mozzarella production areas of Italy you’ll also find other wonderful buffalo milk products like yogurt and fresh ricotta. Water buffalo meat is also sold as steaks and various salami products. Not only is it delicious but it’s also very low in cholesterol.
History of the water buffalo in Italy
Some claim that there is fossil evidence indicating that Italian water buffalo originated in Italy, but the more likely theory is that they were introduced by the Normans from Sicily in the year 1000. Originally the animals were used to plow land but starting in the 12th century water buffalo were used for milk and cheese making. Mozzarella production stopped during the second world war as the German troops slaughtered local buffalo herds in Campania. Following the war additional water buffalo were imported and today buffalo mozzarella production constitutes a €300 million per year industry in Italy. About 33,000 tons are produced each year and 16% is exported, mostly within the European Union.
Buffalo mozzarella in the United States
Buffalo mozzarella production is quite uncommon in the United States for a number of reasons and one for sure pertains to distribution. Imagine that the United States is like three dozen Italy’s all glued together and getting fresh cheese same-day to various distribution points is a challenge. The United States is structured towards supermarket distribution and products with a longer shelf life.
Secondarily the psychological fragility of water buffalo doesn’t lend itself to mass production as the animals require great care and optimal living conditions.
If you’re looking for buffalo mozzarella in the United States where can you find it? First and foremost many Italian specialty shops import it from Italy, but these shops are usually found in urban areas on the east coast like Manhattan and New Jersey.
There is a South American company from Colombia, Buf Creamery, that makes quite tasty buffalo mozzarella and distributes nationwide in the United States.
Lioni Mozzarella in New Jersey imports fresh buffalo milk from Italy and produces mozzarella. They also have lots of other wonderful cheese products.
You can also find a few small companies speckled throughout the United States that produce mozzarella on a small scale. Audrey Ramini has a buffalo farm in California and it’s the very first female run farm of its kind. She formed her company in 2008 with her husband Craig: Ramini Mozzarella.
You might not normally think of Colorado as a place conducive to raising water buffalo but there are plans to raise water buffalo in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Not too many years back there was a water buffalo farm in Vermont that unfortunately closed. Seems like another company in the state recently obtained funding to launch a water buffalo farm but I have no information on the details.
Visit an Italian artisanal buffalo mozzarella producer
When travel opens up post-coved and you start to plan your next trip to Italy be sure to add a visit to a buffalo mozzarella farm to your bucket list! And for this I’ve got you covered! Plan to join me for a one day trip from Rome to visit a mozzarella farm to taste all the wonderful buffalo milk products, plus a visit to an ancient hill-town and a wonderful Lazio wine tasting.
How to serve buffalo mozzarella
Mozzarella is delicious on its own or with fresh crusty bread. It’s often served with sliced tomatoes and fresh basil, or with prosciutto. And of course it’s wonderful with many pasta and other dishes.