Early in the morning, seated by a sunny window of Tenuta Seliano, an agriturismo in southern Italy, one gets a whiff of the not-unpleasant perfume of water buffalo. It is indeed the milk of these handsome creatures that goes into the making of the most famous, most delicious, and most coveted mozzarella cheese in the world – mozzarella di bufala.
Yesterday, with the Baronessa Cecilia Bellelli, we visited her varied agricultural treasures spread across two large expanses of plains and fields. What a contrast from the “ultra-glam” days along the Amalfi coast. Here we were gathering eggs from the chicken coops, saying hello to the honking geese, feeding grass to the horses, running after the chickens and roosters (and discussing how “cockscombs” are used in southern Italian recipes), being greeted by an assortment of several dozen cats and dogs, and finally staring the water buffalo face-to-face and watching them be milked one-by-one. The bufala patiently wait as though they were in line for the movies, looking forward to helping Cecilia provide the 1 and ½ tons of milk that are delivered daily to the local dairies. They in turn transform the sweet, very full fat milk, into the superb mozzarella we can’t stop eating! We brought several gallons of the milk back to Cecilia’s kitchen so that we could make our own very fresh cheese for breakfast the next day. Not bad at all accompanied by sturdy bread and excellent homemade preserves.
We also drank some of the buffalo milk “neat.” Simply poured from the big jug less than an hour after milking, we found it sweet, and less “lactate” than we expected. We also tasted the water buffalo milk in gelato (with pistachios) and in yogurt which was so rich that it came close to the ultra-suave texture of crème fraiche.
But alas, since this trip is not about food alone (!), we visited the remarkable ancient city of Paestum, which is thousands of years old and home to the best-conserved Greek temple after the Theseion in Athens. We drove along the pine forest which runs parallel to the sandy beaches of the area and ended up, mid-day, back at Seliano, for an amazing lunch of braided fresh mozzarella, ethereal burrata, bufula milk ricotta, homemade pancetta and prosciutto, and a main course of candele (pasta) with a spicy onion and red pepper sauce cooked with neonata – tiny newborn fish – an extraordinary recipe from Calabria. Dinner lasted until midnight. Indeed, this is the place, where the water buffalo roam.