In this eighth edition of The Wandering Cheesemonger, our intrepid blogger, Grace, examines a very different source for mozzarella cheese….
A few weeks ago, I bought my ticket to France, which means I’ve finally locked in my summer working at Chevrerie de la Baie, the small goat and buffalo farm that I worked on two summers ago. The last time I was there, Marisa, the head cheesemaker, focused her energy on learning to make buffalo mozzarella, a new business enterprise that Marisa was working to perfect. Fresh mozzarella made from buffalo’s milk is often understood as one of the hardest cheeses to make, something that one can only really get in Italy.
A few years before I met her, Marisa had decided to diversify her cheesemaking business and get buffalos. Fresh goat cheese doesn’t sell for much in France, and Marisa was barely making enough to make ends meet with only goats on the farm. She was also looking for a new challenge; at this point, making the goats milk cheese feels like second nature to her, and she wanted to try her hand at something different. So, she went for something really different, and started looking for investors to help fund her starting to make buffalo mozzarella.
This was quite the proposition; buffalos are not only extremely expensive animals to purchase and care for, but they are also extremely dangerous. Even with well-trained and happy buffalo, if you catch them on a bad day and they choose to charge you, you’re pretty much toast. Training a buffalo to be comfortable being milked is exhausting and dangerous work. You have to teach them to enter a ‘cage de contention’, a large metal cage that protects the milker from being kicked or butted by the buffalo (well, mostly-Marisa got a few kicks while I was on the farm). And once you finally get the milk, you’re in for a difficult and painful cheesemaking experience, including hand-forming balls of mozzarella by pulling pieces of the curd out of approximately 175° fahrenheit water.
All of this, though, is worth it for that incredible fresh buffalo mozzarella. I was on the farm two summers ago when Marisa made her first successful batch—something she figured out how to do by herself. It was one of the most glorious moments, after weeks of struggling to get the buffalos in to the cage de contention, after trying different ‘recipes’ and seeing failure multiple times, after Marisa repeatedly stuck her hands in water slightly below boiling temperature so she could form the balls of mozzarella by hand. That first ball of mozzarella that we cut in to was firm, and a bit of milk oozed out as we cut it, testifying to the freshness of the boule. The flavor of the fresh, milky, fatty cheese was out of this world; the texture still needed a bit of work, but Marisa is still tweaking and adjusting to get the cheese perfect every time. The best part of the cheesemaking process is this constant adjustment and playing, making every cheese slightly different from a similar one made a month before.