Recently, my family and I visited Paestum, Italy, known for it’s ancient Greek ruins. The ruins, with structures similar to the Parthenon in Athens, are fascinating because they are in impeccable condition.
I have to be honest though…I didn’t go to Paestum to gaze upon the ancient rubble. I went to gaze upon a mozzarella farm and to see where the world famous “Mozzarella di Bufala” (mozzarella of buffalo) is produced. After all, the origin of the water buffalo comes from Paestum.
Let me take a quick moment to mention our lovely lodging. We stayed at Il Cannito. An exclusive, intimate complex with contemporary rooms equipped with amenities such as original art pieces, heated floors, and hydro-sonic/hydro-massage tubs (such a treat!). The food is prepared with passion and the wines carefully selected. All of this plus a private and picturesque setting in the hills of Capaccio.
Now, onto the star of the show….mozzarella. The origin of the word mozzarella comes from the Italian word “mozzare” meaning to cut off. Only seven provinces in Italy produce this world famous product and their all located in the South-Central area of the country.
We toured Tenuta Vannulo, founded in 1988 and located on 200 hectares of expansive farmland. The farm is innovative with it’s use of new technology while respecting old time tradition. In 1996, Tenuta Vannulo started organic farming and became certified by the ICEA (the Italian Association for Organic Farming). This farm promotes sustainable agriculture and is the only organic buffalo farm in Italy. Tenuta Vannulo has approximately 600 buffalo of which, 300 are adults. One buffalo cost roughly $4,000 and weighs a little over 1,300 pounds!
Hands down, my favorite part of the tour was visiting these mighty beasts, close relatives to the Indian and North American buffaloes. Although enormous, they seemed rather tranquil and friendly. I think it had something to do with the fact that these fellas are pampered as if vacationing in Sedona. Music is pumped in, massage brushes are available on demand, and plenty of space to roam helps them feel content. While I was there, I noticed one particular buffalo use the massage brush for the best head massage I’ve seen. These guys deserve it though, they get milked three times a day. That may seem like a lot of work to us, but they were lined up at the milking machine as if it were a 5 star restaurant. I think the fact that they get a private feed bucket while in there may have had something to do with it.
At Tenuta Vannulo, the process is fairly quick and simple as is the case at most farms. Milk is collected at 4am daily, curdled then drained to eliminate the whey. The curd is put into a mill to be ground into chunks then set in a mold, immersed in hot water and stirred until it’s rubbery. After this, the cheese-maker kneads the cheese and when it becomes shiny and smooth, pulls a piece off and forms a ball by hand. Once the ball is formed it is put into a cold water brine. The end product is a fresh, porcelain white cheese with a thin rind and delicate flavor. When cut, fresh mozzarella oozes a watery, milky fluid and smells of milk enzymes. If you’re lucky, you can taste it when it’s so fresh, it is still slightly warm and squeaks when you eat it. I have to tell you, after this foodie experience, I am clearly second guessing my upcoming move away from Bella Italia!