I eat a lot of cheese. Even so, when someone asks, "what's your favorite cheese?" I never hesitate: mozzarella di bufala, the extraordinary soft cheese from southern Italy.
To me, biting into a lush, creamy mozzarella fresh off the farm is to taste a bit of heaven on earth. To be precise, I mean the kind made from the milk of water buffalo, not just any old cow. (Cow's milk mozzarella, called fior di latte in Italy, is often terrific, but never sublime.)
Water buffalo, however, aren't exactly common in the cheesemaking countries. But in Campania, in the area just south of Napoli, there are herds of them, used to make this wondrous, delicate cheese.
Global supply chains are more sophisticated these days -- so importation of fresh buffalo mozzarella is routine in big U.S. cities -- but it's still mighty perishable, best eaten soon after its production.
So with an odd mix of excitement and trepidation, I've watched experiments by U.S. dairy farmers to raise water buffaloes of their own. There are two such makers. One is the Woodstock Water Buffalo Co., which makes a line of cheese and yogurt from the milk.
The other is Bubalus Bubalis, a California company that started raising its herd in 1998. The cheese -- whose quirky moniker is the Latin name for "water buffalo" -- is a noble effort to emulate the great Italian varieties. It's not quite a match for the Old Country masters, but it's a mighty fine cheese nonetheless.
By design, it's not as soft and oozy as some of the versions from Campania. Bubalus Bubalis is salted a bit more and differently, so that it's slightly firmer (but similarly rich in depth and flavor) than Mozzarella di bufala right off the boat. To me, in fact, it tastes closer to an extra-creamy type of fior di latte than a traditional di buffala.
PAIRINGS: Ripe tomatoes. Basil. Olive oil. And sliced pieces of Bubalus Bubalis. The perfect insalata caprese, California style.