As everybody surely knows, Campania is the home of mozzarella, or more specifically mozzarella di bufala, which is made of the milk of water buffalos. There aren’t so many lakes in the region, and I don’t think the water these water buffalos like is seawater, no matter how clean, but rest assured that even if they aren’t wallowing in marshes all day, the buffalos at the farm we visited were enviably happy.
Vannulo is one of the most renowned producers in the region, but you will never find their mozzarella in a shop. It can only be bought directly at the source, and locals and visitors alike flock to the place to get their hands on the cheese, yoghurt and ice cream. We went on a nice little tour of this eco-certified farm, and it was something else entirely.
The cheesemakers start very early in the morning, processing the fresh milk mere metres away from the cows that generously milked themselves (more about that below) in the barns. Their hands move as quickly as a magician’s, tying the flexible white mass into knots, braids and other shapes before our eyes.
Of course, the real stars here are the buffalo, and they are treated like royalty. They live in huge airy barns overlooking the countryside. There are several “alleys” and each side has a sort of pavement that is covered in durable rubber… that is so the buffalos’ teats don’t get cold while they are resting. Dung is washed away at regular intervals by jets of water to keep everything nice and clean. There are large rotating brushes installed in the middle of each alley to relieve that nasty itch.
Just in case that’s not enough, every morning the buffaloes indulge in some classical music, usually Mozart, as apparently it helps to relieve stress (what stress?) and keep them in good humour. And where is the water, do you ask? There are showers! At regular intervals, showers come on and the buffalo flock (herd?) to them to indulge in a refreshing sprinkle. Never have I seen an animal look so completely satisfied.
Obviously, all this pampering works. These buffalo have learned to milk themselves. At the end of each alley, there is a “milking station” which is accessed by a series of gates. Every cow has a collar with a blue chip that controls its movements. It is allowed to go for milking at intervals of minimally 6 hours. The first gate opens automatically as the cow approaches, and electronics evaluate whether the interval has been met. If not, the gate to the milking machine remains closed and another opens, guiding the cow back out into the barn. If the timing is right, the gate opens and the buffalo proceeds to a small space to wait for a vacancy in the milking machine.
Then it simply steps inside this very odd-looking contraption, a laser searches for the teats so the robot can attach the “suction hoses” and then the buffalo stands there looking somewhat bored but very content while it gets milked. Once it’s finished, the cow leaves and the next one comes in. Genius!
The farm also has a small collection of assorted old tools for all types of crafts and trades, and a shop where they make handbags and other accessories from buffalo leather. And of course the main destination, the cheese and ice cream shops, where we tasted some small mozzarella balls, as fresh as they get, and some smooth milky ice cream.
Of course it wouldn’t be right to try just one cheese farm, so we also visited Barlotti, whose cheese we are familiar with from several encounters in Prague. Their buffalo looked just as happy, but I think the milking here is done by more traditional methods. They also manufacture wonderful cosmetics under the Biancamore brand, which I have been pining for ever since I tried a sample back home, so I indulged in a small purchase and have been “bathing in buffalo milk” ever since 😉
And how could we not visit a winery in the region? We are no strangers to wine from De Conciliis, and spent the better part of two hours chatting with their fantastic young wine maker, who guided us through the production process and their entire range of wines. Her best piece of advice concerned their “Selim” sparkling wine – very light and easy – which she calls their version of beer. “You have to take it to the beach with a mortadella panino (sandwich), pop it open and drink it straight from the bottle. There is no other way.”
So… that’s what we did, minus the mortadella sandwich. The little beach at Baia di Trentova is marvellous, with sand stretching far out into the clear blue water.
With the sun setting in the west, it was the best way to wind (wine?) down the afternoon.