Buffalo Milk Takes A Bow
by Cynthia Peters
For centuries Italians have been enjoying the goodness of buffalo milk in their traditional Mozzarella di bufala and Burrata from Caserta and Salerno Italy. Fresh and hand pulled, these cheeses became popular in Canada only a few decades ago. Today, Canadians can enjoy buffalo milk cheeses created closer to home with quality products being made by a number of producers across the country. A west coast cheese maker, Natural Pastures, was the first to produce an authentic buffalo mozzarella. While mozzarella and other fresh varieties might be the most popular of the buffalo milk cheeses, a large number of aged cheeses are now becoming the star attraction.
Why are they becoming popular? Buffalo milk has a number of unique nutritional qualities. Lower in cholesterol, yet higher in fat (8-10%), buffalo milk is more easily digestible due to its enzymes that act similar to lactose free products. Rich in calcium and minerals, it also boosts more calories as compared to cow’s milk.
In Prince Edward County, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese has created an interesting line of aged cheeses using milk from a buffalo farm in Stirling. The Ontario Water Buffalo Company is a 450 acre farm with around 300 naturally raised buffalo. Owners, Lori Smith and her husband Martin Littkemann have been producing buffalo milk from their farm since 2008, the first in Eastern Canada. The females are milked twice a day in a state-of-the art milking facility that they retrofitted to work for the larger buffalo. Their first 40 water buffalo came from a farm in Vermont, with their origin traced back to Italy. The Ontario Water Buffalo Company’s milk is used for cheese production and shipped to two companies, Quality Cheese in Woodbridge and Fifth Town, both family owned companies.
The raw milk is shipped to Fifth Town immediately after the morning milking to get the freshest start to their array of cheeses. Patricia Bertozzi, co-owner of Fifth Town is passionate about the creation and depth of their buffalo milk cheeses. It was difficult for her to find local sheep milk, so Patricia turned her sites to what was fresh and nearby, buffalo milk. Their semi-soft line of cheeses includes “Where the Buffalo Roam”, a washed rind cheese (with local chardonnay); “Buffalina”, a farmhouse gouda (2015 Gold winner at The Royal Winer Fair); and kicked up a notch, “Buffalina with Truffles”. The black truffles are imported frozen and grated into the cheese to give it that earthy, delicate addition. These cheeses are aged from 3 to 6 months.
Fresher cheeses, like Buffalo Brie and Buffalo Cream Cheese (similar to Chevre), are more seasonal and are made in smaller quantities as their shelf life is limited. The very “creamy” cheese takes twice as much milk to produce the same amount of cheese made from goat’s milk. One of the more popular fresh cheeses is “Skipping Stone” a soft ripened cheese that has been rolled in grape vine ash and aged for 14 days.
Another Italian staple is Parmesan. Patricia’s grandfather was a parmigiano producer in Reggio Emilia, Italy, so it seemed very natural for her to try her hand in making local Parmesan from buffalo milk. The first batch flew off the shelf. Aged to at least 18 months, these golden wedges will be a real prize to taste and buy in the coming months.
The main line of buffalo milk cheeses produced by Quality Cheese Company are the young Italian cheeses. Their Bocconcini, Mozzarella di bufala (award winning), Caciocavallo (regular and smoked) and Ricotta. All their brands of cheeses can be found in grocery outlets across Canada. Harder cheeses include a nutty Asiago and velvety Gouda.
For the past number of years in early June, consumers have been fortunate enough to try a number of these cheeses and a host of other artisan cheeses at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival held at the Crystal Palace in Picton. This year’s festival, June 3rd and 4th, will feature more than 130 exhibitors and vendors. Attendees will also have a chance to meet a number of Canada’s outstanding cheesemakers in person. And the original producers will be there - adults and children will be able to meet some water buffalo from the Ontario Water Buffalo farm. Although their size might be intimidating, these animals are very affectionate and love to be patted.
Other attractions include, a gourmet food court plus more than 500 foods and beverages for sampling and purchasing including local VQA wines and ciders. The festival offers special events around the county like Gastronomy on the Farm with Jamie Kennedy, Cooking with Cheese class, and a Quinte Cheese Tour.
At the Ontario Water Buffalo Company, farm tours are also available from May to October by appointment, their retail shop on site is open year round and stocked with cheese, butter and buffalo meat. Reid’s Dairy in Belleville will be processing the farm’s milk and it will be available for purchase at the farm gate shop in the near future.
Beyond cow, sheep and goat cheeses the mighty buffalo is making its way to more and more cheese trays and recipes, a real creamy and healthy alternative, right here in the region.