On Buffalo Mozzarella

I had no idea buffalo mozzarella existed, much less that it was virtually impossible to obtain in the United States. So I read this New York Times Magazine piece with interest:

Why, then, is it so impossible to get truly fresh buffalo mozzarella in the United States? Well, there are all kinds of reasons.

Consider, first off, the conditions in Italy, which are basically perfect. Water buffalo have lived in the hills around Naples for around 1,000 years. (To be clear: these are not the big, brown, wild, hairy bison of the American prairies; they’re the smooth, dark, curly-horned beasts you might expect to see in a documentary about rice farming in China.) One Italian cheesemaker told me that the animals first came to Italy when Hannibal used them to carry his war treasure back from Asia — a story that is historically dubious but does manage to capture the cheese’s almost mythic exoticism. After so many centuries of practice, modern Italians have buffalo dairying down to a science: animal genetics, human expertise, farming infrastructure — it’s all in place and perfectly integrated. If you walk into a shop in Naples and ask for mozzarella, you will get a ball of buffalo milk that probably congealed only hours before. (For the vastly inferior cow’s-milk version — the default in American stores — you have to ask by a whole different name: fior di latte.)

Italy is a quintessentially Old World country — a quilt of microregions, each fiercely loyal to its own traditions and cuisines — which means that it’s perfectly natural to expect your cheese to have been made locally that day. This expectation has been woven so deeply into the fabric of daily life, by so many generations of cheese eaters, that the market for it is guaranteed. And Italy is small enough that, if you do move a fresh product from one major city to the next, it takes only a couple of hours.

The conditions in the United States are the opposite of that. Our water-buffalo herds are sparse and, for the purposes of dairying, practically feral. They’re difficult to acquire and expensive to raise. They produce only a fraction of the milk you get from a typical dairy cow, and they are so psychologically fragile that it’s hard to even get that much out of them.

Read the rest of the piece to learn about Craig Ramini, “.the latest American adventurer hellbent on making fresh buffalo mozzarella.”

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