A couple of years back, Mike and I went with a group of food friends (restaurateurs, food writers, cookbook authors and editors) on a ten day jaunt through Campania, lead by the indomitable Faith Willinger, an American ex-pat and author of the best-selling Eating in Italy and Red, White, and Greens and one of the chef’s of PBS’s Cucina Amore (with its eponymous cookbook The Chef’s of Cucina Amore.) With Faith at the helm it’s a gut-lock cinch that the trip will be a total hedonistic pleasure, because she knows every culinary delight and fabulous restaurant from the knee to the tip of the toe of the boot of Italy.
On this particular trip, one stop took us to Vannulo, a water buffalo dairy near the ancient ruins at Paestum. Dairy doesn’t begin to do justice to the idyllic facility created by Antonio Palmieri and family. A more exact comparison would be to one of the beautiful chateau vineyards (Niebaum-Copola or Jordan, for instance) that you find in Napa: glorious, vine-covered, old, ochre buildings with red tiled roofs, clusters of Italian cypress spires set in here and there, sun-dappled gardens and stone porticos for al fresco dining and milking barns for the star boarders that are cleaner than my kitchen. The ladies (as the herd of pampered water buffalos, or bufala, are called) are hand fed organic, tender, fresh greens and even get a running water hoof bath and a shower as they parade across the barn’s entry to be milked.
Bufala milk is richer than cow’s milk—higher not only in fat content, but in protein and calcium as well. The most famous use for it is in making mozzarella di bufala, which Vannulo turns out daily. We were able to watch the process as the casadors expertly turn fresh latte di bufala into snowy balls of the best mozzarella on the planet. Outside, the line of locals waiting to purchase the day’s production wraps around the building
In addition to their mozz, Vannulo also turns their bufala milk into freshly churned gelato and yogurt—both so creamy they’re almost buttery—which they sell from an old-fashioned gelateria, bedecked with poster-sized glamour shots of the individually-named cows. We feasted generously on all of it, even taking some yogurt with us for our breakfast the next day. When it was gone, we wistfully assumed we’d have to wait until our next trip to Italy to enjoy it again, since there’s hardly enough made to keep the line of locals happy, much less to export.
What a joy it was to recently discover that the fine art of bufala dairy farming has crossed the ocean and is thriving in upstate Vemont at Woodstock Dairy. There, in the dairy case at our local natural foods grocery, was bufala yogurt. We grabbed every container of the Plain, fearing it to be some sort of special promotion that we’d never see again. It was not; to our delight, it’s been there week after week. (FYI: It does come in a plethora of delicious-sounding flavors, but we don’t want the added sugars, so we always opt for Plain.) If it’s not in your market, ask your grocer to order it or go to the Woodstock Dairy website to order on-line. If you love yogurt, this is heaven in a cup.