Italian tradition. Canadian milk. American persistence. Calabro Cheese’s ricotta di bufala required input from three countries and a decade of effort before the Connecticut company had a viable product. The cheese now has earned multiple ribbons from the American Cheese Society and is poised for takeoff. Like other water-buffalo cheeses, Calabro ricotta di bufala is not inexpensive (I paid $3.49 for a four-ounce basket), but if successful, it may persuade others to ponder the potential for water buffalo in the U.S. We can hope.
In Italy, mozzarella and ricotta from the rich milk of water buffalo are prized and priced higher than cow’s milk equivalents. East Haven-based Calabro, known for its superb hand-dipped cow’s milk ricotta, has long wanted to produce a bufala version. But CEO Frank Angeloni could never source enough milk to support both mozzarella and ricotta production.
The company tried importing frozen milk from Italy but that was a disaster, says longtime Calabro sales rep Fiorella Cutrufello. Customs would occasionally misplace the shipment and locate it only when its warehouse started to smell, says Cutrufello.
Even when the frozen milk made it to the Calabro plant, it didn’t yield a consistent product. “We caught the Italians fudging,” claims Cutrufello. “There was cow’s milk mixed in and we could prove it.”
Eventually, Angeloni found a farm in Ontario that could supply what he needed. The fresh water-buffalo milk is shipped once a week and clears Customs easily—in Buffalo, of all places. Angeloni pasteurizes it, mixes it with whey from his mozzarella di bufala, heats and coagulates it with citric acid and adds salt. The ricotta is produced and packed on Fridays and shipped on Monday morning. Philadelphians could have it for lunch.
Three years ago, competing for the first time, Calabro’s ricotta di bufala won a blue ribbon in its category at ACS. It repeated the feat last year. This year it took second place.
“It’s richer, as if you put extra butter in it,” says Cutrufello, comparing it to Calabro’s lovely cow’s milk ricotta. “And it’s almost smoother. I don’t know why because it’s made the same way.”
Turned out of its basket and surrounded by cherry tomatoes, the petite ricotta is a ready-made first course. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil or add a dab of pesto. The texture is finer than the Calabro hand-dipped cow ricotta, the flavor more gamy.
Calabro packs most of its ricotta di bufala in large tubs for foodservice. The four-ounce basket is new and not widespread yet, but meal-kit companies are loving it. It’s perfect for two, unless you’re greedy.
In Northern California, look for the four-ounce Calabro ricotta di bufala at Bi Rite, Rainbow Grocery, Real Foods and Say Cheese in San Francisco and Oliver’s Markets in the Santa Rosa area. Beyond California, look for it at Eataly in Chicago, Agata & Valentina in New York City and Di Bruno Bros in Philadelphia. Severino Pasta Company uses the ricotta di bufala in its ravioli, available frozen at most Whole Foods.