Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Water Buffalo Cheese

     Yesterday I was wandering through the cheese section of the local Giant Eagle, a decent supermarket chain in the Midwest and Mid Atlantic.  This grocery has an amusing visual aid—they have little placards with the name, brief description, and then a picture of the milk-producing animal for all of their selections.  Most, of course, are little cow silhouettes, broken up by the occasional goat or sheep.  But one had a totally different one, of a buffalo.  It was Mozzarella Di Bufala, from Sorella, imported from Italy.
     I was a little surprised to learn that the water buffalo has quite a history in Italy (and throughout Europe, South America, Australia, and North America).  They were introduced in about 600 A.D., and have been used as a work animal, and been utilized for their meat, bones and hide (for jewelry and leather goods), and milk.  Mozzarella cheese (from the Italian word mozzare, “to cut,” as its production includes spinning and cutting the cheese (pun not intended)) was, in fact, traditionally made from water buffalo milk.  It’s only in fairly recent times that it’s been made from regular cow’s milk.
     Water buffalo originate from Asia, namely the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.  They’ve been domesticated for thousands of years, and are an integral part of the cultures of the people in these areas.  They’ve been called the “living tractors of the East,” as they are excellent for laboring in flooded rice paddy fields.  Water buffalo races are held in many countries (and less nicely, fights of the male animals are staged, too).  Wild ones even have ecological uses, as their browsing of water plants help keep channels open for other animals, and river traffic.
     As far as cheese types go, mozzarella has to be among the world’s most popular, up there with cheddar, gouda, and feta, I guess.  That’s because of the explosion of pizza in the 20th century, which uses a type of mozzarella.
     Long story short, water buffalo mozzarella cheese was delicious.  Granted, I love pretty much all cheeses, and have consumed thousands of pizzas, so there wasn’t a whole lot of drama going in.  I was able to detect a slight difference in water buffalo mozzarella cheese versus cow mozzarella cheese, though.  The buffalo variant was slightly richer, and a tad sweeter and creamier.  Since water buffalo milk is higher in fat and protein content than cow’s, this makes sense.  I had it fresh, and by itself, so I’d like to try it cooked into a pizza, or sample other cheese types (ricotta, stracchino, etc.) made with it, too.  Really, the only down side was it was tough to get (this is the only time I’ve seen it sold in a grocery) and it was a little expensive (which is also not shocking, since it is rare, and was imported).
     I’ll close with a quote from the movie “Fletch,” because I love this film and it’s the only one I can think of which references the topic of this post.  “Can I borrow your towel for a sec?  My car just hit a water buffalo.”

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