A trip to the Campania region of Italy wouldn’t be complete without visiting a mozzarella-producing farm. (Well, at least for us foodies.) Many cheeses hail from Campania, but the one that reigns supreme and is well-known throughout the world is mozzarella. What’s even more interesting about visiting a mozzarella-producing farm in this region in Italy is that they use the milk from water buffaloes to create the cheese, hence the name mozzarella di bufala.
It is the traditional way of making mozzarella in Italy. Unfortunately, in the USA we are not able to produce buffalo milk on a large scale; we usually make a version of mozzarella that is produced by using cow’s milk. What’s the BIG difference you ask? Good question. I have learned that mozzarella di bufala is overall a softer, moister cheese. It is very flavorful and has a slightly tangy finish to it. Mozzarella made with cow’s milk (the one we are most accustomed to in the USA) has a sweeter taste, it’s firmer and not as flavorful. But, when you can’t get the real McCoy the cow’s milk version is a great substitute.
I, like many people, have a great love for mozzarella and as a chef I’ve always wanted to visit a water buffalo farm that produces authentic mozzarella. Luckily, last May during my road trip through southern Italy, the opportunity came along to visit Tenuta Vannulo, an organic cheese-making water buffalo farm that’s located in Capaccio-Paestum about 1 hour and a half from the city of Naples, by car. A private tour was put together (see video below this post) for my friends and me; it was a fabulous learning experience!
The water buffaloes are, as you could guess, are predominantly all female, and total about 200. There are only eight bulls kept on the grounds who’s sole jobs are to impregnate the herd of females. After the buffalo calves are born, the mothers begin producing milk and the process of cheese making can begin. Makes sense, right? No milk equals, no cheese.
All the buffaloes at Tenuta Vannulo are micro-chipped. Each chip stores all their information, such as the times of day that they are milked, how much they usually produce and their daily habits. It’s a system that allows these animals to interact with one another naturally, stay happy and produce healthy and delicious milk. Even the milking process is done mechanically with a very high-tech machine. This was a very interesting thing to watch. Basically, when a female feels she is ready to be milked, she is trained to walk up to a certain gate where a scanner reads her chip. Once the chip is read, the gate automatically opens, as this particular buffalo has now been recognized by the system. She then proceeds to a machine where she stands in place and is automatically milked. The milk is sent directly to a storage area where the humans step in to ultimately continue the cheese-making process.
And now for the real treat! Once you complete you tour of the farm make sure to pass by the viewing window where you’ll see the expert cheese-makers stretching and braiding many different varieties of mozzarella. By now you’ll be hungry and anxious to sink your teeth into some freshly-made mozzarella. You’re in luck! There is a fantastic restaurant on the premises to have lunch. Or, if you’re pressed for time there is a cute cafe near the exit.
Here you’ll find a variety of yogurt, gelato, breads, homemade chocolate spreads and even cappuccino, that are made from the organic water buffalo milk produced on site.
And, of course, you’ll want to purchase some fresh ricotta and a ball or two of mozzarella before you leave. That’s easy! Located near the exit is a small store where they sell all the cheeses. It’s a tiny little space, but well worth stepping into, as you brush shoulders with locals that are coming in to buy their favorite mozzarella, too.
Tenuta Vannulo is an overall great experience, since you get to see the entire process of this cheese-making farm, starting with the water buffaloes and ending at their store front where all their cheeses are sold directly to the public. This is one great learning experience and a nice way to spend an afternoon that’s absolutely DELIZIOSO!