Driving south in the direction of Reggio Calabria, we were headed to see mozzarella being made, our first time, and this time we are heading to caseificio vannulo, the premier organic buffala farm in southern Italy. It was a rainy day, a perfect opportunity to see a cheese. The drive takes one-hour and a half from Naples, the road is mostly highway, an easy drive with a stop for a water.
Tempted to check one or two of the other ceseificios (on the way) we decided not to waste time. We were warned, it was obvious that cheese is the local treasure, a commodity many produce with the intention to pump up the tourists on their way to see the temples of Paestum. But when it comes to the vannulo family follow 100% of the process in the most pure way possible; growing their all their own grains for feed, raising and breeding, feeding, and milking their herd.
We had in our mind two missions, one was to see a proper making of mozzarella at a local caseificio, and the other to see Paestum, a monumental historical 2500 year old Greco/Roman temple, still in impeccable condition. Paestum is not to be missed, extraordinary, it all makes sense when you see the landscape, the buffalo have inhabited this region for centuries, and the making of cheese is a trade passed down over generations.
Driving from the highway, the last stretch of road stakes you 15 kilometers through the town of capaccio scalo, Salerno. It is rather ordinary, bordering “cheesy looking” place, no pun intended. It makes you feel like you are driving through a Las Vegas strip, along the road are plenty of producers pimping mozzarella cheese, signs read “mozzerella” everywhere, a typical touristic attraction.
Located on a discreet unassuming road without any signs, you need to have some idea where you are going. vannulo tenuta does not ship cheese anywhere, only clients who are passionate enough drive their to pick up their own stash. So be prepared to take yourself by car, or find someone who is traveling that way, a friendly Neapolitan who can carry you a few kilos, but each client is limited to 5 kilos per trip.
There is so much to say about mozzarella, I am not sure where to start as the topic is complex. Lets put it this way, until you taste the “real deal”, you have no idea what mozzarella should taste like. Unfortunately mozzarella is sold all over the globe, most of the time it is made of cow’s milk and labeled mozzarella, and or is sold like cheap junky chewing gum.
It is true that fresh mozzarella should be eaten before noon of the day it is produced, according to Nicola the son of Antonio. Nicola is a young man 28 years old, he is sophisticated, gentle and has a mind to continue the family business by following the 100 hectare, and a 100-year-old farm.
The key to mozzarella is to visit the farm, see the buffula, see how they live, what they eat and how the cheese is made. In fact, it is all very simple, at least the process; you take the milk, the buffula are milked beginning at 04h00 and the process of making the mozzarella takes from start until finish approximately 5 hours. Their cheese is salted 2%, it differs from the mozzarella produced in casserta where they actually salt the cheese.
After the milk is collected, in this case the owner of the farm Mr. Antonio Palmieri has created the first automated system for milking his fleet of buffala. We discuss it over a coffee, he asked my view, I agree that milking is a mechanical exercise, so humans or machines doing the chores makes no real difference to the end result. It is a matter of quality milk, preserving the integrity of the milk, processing it in a natural way, knowing how to create the best taste in buffalo you can.
In fact, the machine helps determine whether or not the milk has the correct purity before it can be used for making cheese. Sometimes there are blood droplets in the milk and the machine automatically detects these types of defects.
The machines are computer operated and the system is genius; the buffalo know when they wish to have their udder milked and they make their own way over the machines. There are a set of gates are “smart” they understand the milk cycle of the buffalo, this is done via a transponder, if the buffalo is not ready (a cycle is 10hrs and a buffalo gives milk for 5/6 months) then the gates do not open and the buffalo is routed around and back to the resting pen. The pens are divided into eating and drinking, brushing and resting. The eating pens are separate and the buffala make their way after a meal to the area to drink, they can get brushed and when they feel ready they go to get milked.
After the milking, the buffala’s milk is heated to a temperature of 36 degrees Celsius, and after 2 hours you stir the milk until the curd develops, the whey is separated and used for ricotta and the curd is ready for processing by hand. This process takes from start until the curd, 5 hours in total. The curd is then cut into small pieces (by a shredder) and heated to 95 Celsius for approximately 15 minutes.
Then the mozzarella is pulled by two men, one holds the cheese, and two make the balls dropping them into the mozzarella’s water. The water is the ambient temperature of the place of work. The technique is carried out by holding the cheese between the index and the thumb, and ripping off one section at a time. It remains in the water until ready to be sold.
There are a lot of myths about mozzarella, some maybe true but many are not. This is true, the term ‘mozza’ comes from the verb ‘mozzare’ meaning to cut off, which refers to the process of pulling small portions of the cheese from main curd.
Via Galileo Galilei, 101, 84047 Capaccio Scalo Salerno