Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bufala 101

Can one ever have too much bufala? I think NOT! Lasagna layered with ground bufalo and mozzarella di bufala; bufalo meatballs with a side of over roasted potatoes and peppers; simple tasty balls of fresh mozzarella di bufala; flaky puff pastry filled with ricotta di bufala; stewed bufalo with sweet peppers; bread slathered with creamy, rich bufala butter ... we ate it all and it was delicious!

Did you know that le bufale of southern Italy were brought over by Alexander the Great? (well, not Alexander personally, but his crew.) This is one of many theories on how the Asian water buffalo (bufala) arrived on Italian shores. This particular animal thrives in southern Italy because buffalo do well in hot weather, and, unlike the standard cow, they like marshy wet conditions. They are very robust. Ettore Bellilli told us on our tour that one bufala produces 20 liters of milk per day for 270 days out of the year (a standard cow produces 50 liters - who knew?!) Bufala milk is pure white, where cows milk is creamy white, almost yellow. Because of its higher fat count it actually takes less bufala milk to make cheese than cows milk. And the cheese tastes better!

(picture taken by Jennifer Wilkin)

What else makes the cheese better? Happy buffalo! Ettore said that because the buffalo are black in color, they get very hot. To cool them down, they built a large piscina for the buffalo on the farm to replicate a watering hole. The buffalo are always found hanging out in there in the summer and since the pool went in the buffalo have had higher milk production. In the winter months sprinklers above the buffalo stalls keep them cool and wet. What is better than a muddy bath for a bufala? Nothing. The mud helps keep them cool and also protects them from mosquitoes and other insects. (Perhaps the ancients should have tried this before abandoning malarial Paestum.)

After learning all about the life of le bufale we got to see the actual mozzarella being made: here the curds have been separated from the liquid whey (which will be used to make ricotta):

Then the curds are put into a big vat, hot water is added to soften it, and they are stirred and stirred...
... and stirred until the curd become elastic and looks like one big lump of white taffy being pulled (pasta filata).
Then the pasta filata is either put into a shaping machine (as in the case below) or shaped by hand into balls and plunked into cold water. The mozzarella is then packed into plastic bags filled with this water, boxed up, labeled and shipped, in this case, to various Italian destinations. (The cheese made at this particular factory is not pasteurized and therefore cannot be sold in the states. It is ideally eaten within 3 days of being made and should never be refrigerated.)

Some of the mozzarella is taken in back to a large smoker and smoked over hay. The smell is divine. Oh and did I mention that they also make and sell bufala gelato? And bufala milk soap! Yessir! The wonders of bufala never cease to amaze me.

Oh and the Greek temples in Paestum were pretty cool too ...

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