I’ve been busy with a book proposal and my research took me to Campania, to the south of Naples where I encountered still warm mozzarella – and extremely muddy buffaloes whose milk is turned into the cheese.
Tenuta Vannulo is the only organic mozzarella producer in the Paestum area. They only use milk from their own herd and never buy in anyone else’s.
Alas you won’t find their products in your local Italian deli as they cannot meet local demand, never mind supply the rest of Italy and the world. But they’re still worth talking about thanks to the quality of their mozzarella and the considerable thought (and capital expense) that has gone into making sure their buffaloes are happy. Happy animals equal better quality milk, and I’m sure I saw several smiling buffalo cows.
Nicola Palmieri, whose family own the farm, showed me round the 4 huge sheds at the centre of which is a control room. The cows have learnt to present themselves to the automatic milking machine, which in turn informs the central computer which individual it is. The computer keeps a check – white for cows that have been milked, yellow for those who are a bit overdue, and red where a buffalo assistant finds the animal and takes it to the milking stall. Milking is on a continuous or ad hoc basis, in contrast to other farms where buffalo are milked twice a day.
The buffaloes 5 star treatment continues with rubber mats on which to lie down – these are dry and help to limit infections and irritations of the udder. There are also 4 giant rotating brushes, one in each shed, which operate a bit like at a car wash. But here the animals line up to have a good scratch, adhering to a herd hierarchy so there’s always an orderly queue rather than a scrum. The water loving cows also have a shower every day.
It takes about 10 litres of milk to make 2.7kg of mozzarella. At Vannulo, the mozzarella is hand made (in contrast to most other dairies where there’s a Heath Robinson contraption spitting out different size balls). Mozzarella isn’t the only thing they make: there is also a range of organic buffalo milk yoghurt, using organic fresh fruit purees, and some delicious ice creams. I can vouch for the pistachio and hazelnut ones, served on the lightest brioche I’ve ever eaten – made with buffalo butter, of course.
There’s a shop and café on the farm, and a buffalo leather bag shop. If you are ever in Campania, book yourself on a guided tour, or just go along and buy some of their mozzarella. It’s worth it