Where the Bufala Roam


For years, the only buffalo-milk cheese available in the U.S. was Italian mozzarella di bufala. It came from the Campania region around Naples, where the water buffalo were. But that’s rapidly changing.
Entrepreneurial farmers in Northern Italy have now established bufala herds there, mostly in Lombardy, to capitalize on booming demand for the rich bufala milk. Rather than sell their milk to the mozzarella factories in Campania, they’ve begun to create their own bufala cheeses, often based on traditional Lombardian recipes. That’s the story behind the lovely Quattro Portoni cheeses, like Casatica and Blu di Bufala, and the wildly successful Camembert di Bufala.
New on the scene: Bergamino di Bufala (pictured above), a semisoft bloomy-rind cheese that demonstrates the potential of this exceptional milk. Why did it take cheesemakers so long to realize what latte di bufala can do?
Water buffalo don’t yield a lot of milk, but what they give is high in fat and protein—the “solids” that cheesemakers want.  A fat content of 10 percent would not be uncommon. (Cow’s milk averages about 3-1/2 percent.) I tasted water-buffalo milk in Italy, and it was dense, sweet and creamy, like half-and-half.
Bergamino di Bufala is a roughly four-pound square, resembling a thick Taleggio in shape. The rind is thin and edible, but cut it away if you don’t like the taste. The interior is off-white to pale ivory with many tiny openings, a moist texture and a faint mushroom aroma. The flavor is milky, sweet and delicate, with bright acidity in the finish. The importer estimates that it’s only matured for three to four weeks, and it isn’t intended for keeping. Its subtlety calls for a light- to medium-bodied white wine, like a Gavi or Pinot Grigio.
Currently, Northern California Whole Foods have snapped up almost all of the supply for a regional promotion. I purchased some at Sunshine Foods in St. Helena at $26.99 a pound, but you may not find the cheese elsewhere until the Whole Foods promotion ends.

Olives in the Hot Seat


Although I keep my olives in the refrigerator, I never serve them cold. A gentle warming in olive oil heightens their flavor and gives me the chance to add seasonings, like crushed fennel seed, oregano or sliced garlic. Warm green olives with aged cheese, like Vella Dry Jack or Manchego, is one of the simplest appetizers you can make. You’ll find the recipe on my web site, along with several other winter favorites. To drink? Fino sherry for me—preferably straight from the fridge.