You’re not imagining it. Buffalo are roaming all over American cheese counters these days. Buffalo ricotta, mozzarella, Camembert, blue. I haven’t spotted a buffalo Cheddar yet, but surely any day now. From a curiosity to (almost) mainstream in a decade, cheeses made with rich water-buffalo milk are having a moment. Many are good; a few are great.
Italy’s water buffalo—bufala in Italian—resided mostly in the Campania region, around Naples, until the two brothers behind Quattro Portoni took a risk on raising them in the north, beginning in 2000. Now big bufala herds thrive in Lombardy and Tuscany, and I’m aware of at least three California farms trying to establish them.
Water-buffalo milk is exceptionally high in fat and protein—10 percent fat is not uncommon. Until Quattro Portoni began its experiments, no one really knew what this milk could do.
A few bufala cheeses to know beyond mozzarella:
Barilotto: from the experts at Casa Madaio, this rindless five-ounce gem is like a super-moist ricotta salata. Buttery and silky, with a sweet undertone.
Bergamino di bufala: a semisoft bloomy-rind cheese from Lombardy, shaped like a thick Taleggio; milky and mushroomy, with a moist, open texture.
Casatica di bufala: made by Quattro Portoni (read my Culture magazine story about the farm here) the farmstead creamery that pioneered bufala in Northern Italy; a two-pound bloomy-rind cheese with a milky sweetness and a supple, yielding, silky mouthfeel.
Grossetano: from La Maremmana, a Tuscan producer that just began making bufala cheeses about five years ago, this 14-pound wheel is matured for three to four months. It has a natural rind; a firm, brittle interior; and a tart, gamy, savory flavor that reminds me of a lemony lamb chop.
Quadrello di bufala (pictured above): another winner from Quattro Portoni, a square washed-rind cheese with Taleggio-like texture, a mushroom-and-cave aroma and a lively tang.
Ricotta di bufala: This quivery tub-packed ricotta from Campania’s Podere dei Leoni is sublime. It tastes more like a savory custard than like ricotta, but I’m not complaining.
Where Mozzarella Begins
Ramini Mozzarella, a tiny farmstead producer of water-buffalo cheese in western Sonoma County, California, welcomes visitors for ticketed tours every Saturday afternoon. Proprietor Audrey Hitchcock recounts the farm’s nine-year back story, including the untimely death of her husband and partner, Craig Ramini, before the enterprise really got traction. Then she takes visitors through the milking parlor, serves samples of her mozzarella at picnic tables and encourages everyone to get into the pen with these lumbering creatures. You won’t see cheesemaking, but you’ll come away with a better understanding of the challenges facing America’s water-buffalo pioneers. Reservations