Quattro Portoni: Water Bufala in Northern Italy? A Transition That Worked!
by Bruno Gritti, moderated by Michele Buster
190 million Water Buffalo in the world; less than 1% are in Italy (370,000), 2.9% in Africa, 2.4% elsewhere in Europe and North and South America combined; the remainder are in Asia. [Reference: U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, 2012]
Italian Bufala is considered a sub-species; its geneology is tracked back to 12,000 animals that survived WWII. Most are found in Campania (278,000), followed by Lazio (66,000), and then Lombardy (only 6,000).
Quattro Portoni is in Bergano Province in Lombardy, which is the alpine region of norther Italy. They have 60 Hectares of pasture and fields that grow wheat and tritcale as well as hay. They generate 99% of their feed on the farm. They maintain 250 milking cows, 100 “non-dairy” animals, 300 heifers, and 170 steers at any one time.
In 2012 the farm started participating in a bio-gas energy plant with 21 other farms in their area. The fertilizer that the plant generates goes back to their fields. They’re attempting to reduce their chemical fertilizer input to zero. Their farm also includes dairy cows, pigs, and chickens.
The farm was originally a cattle dairy farm, started in 1982. In 2000, because of unfavorable pricing for their milk, they brought in the Bufala. In 2006 they started making cheese.
Bufala eat 30% less than the avg lactating cow. Their Bufala average 6 to 7 liters of milk a day vs. 28 to 30 liters for a Holstein.
Italy is the only country that maintains a Bufala geneological regristry.
Bufala are know for their “Rusticity”, sturdiness, good health (30% less in veterinary bills), and longevity (5 lactations per cow vs. 2.4 for Holstein on avg.)
The milk components are:
6.5 – 9% fat
4.2 – 4.9% protein
During a lactation a Bufala will produce 2100 liters of milk on avg, but that can ruse up to 4000 liters.
The fat globules are small: between 1 and 6 microns. The milk contains a “greater content of natural anti-oxidents” according to Bruno.
fresh – 25%
semi-hard – 20%
aged – 15%
Traditionally, in Italy, Pasta Filata styles of cheese are made from Bufala milk, but any stay is possible. Around the world they also make paneer, susu, krupuk, and kulfi.
Quattro Portoni has branched out to make Bufala cheese in a variety of styles: [my tasting notes are in brackets]
Quadrella di Bufala: (washed rind soft) “Using artisan techniques and traditions native to the region of Lombardy, Quadrello is made in the style of Taleggio and only with full fat pasteurized buffalo milk. The hhigh fat content allows Quadrello to enrobe your entire mouth with its sweet and milky flavors and engage your nose with aromas of mushroom and underbrush. Its beautiful pale orange rind allows the paste to preserve its moist and tacky texture.” [sharp and rich, less “buffalo” flavor]
Caciocavello di Bufala: (Pasta Filata aged) “An aged pasta filata cheese. The rind is smooth and straw-yellow in color and grows beautiful white and blue molds over time. Inside, the paste is soft with an even texture but may have small eyese throughout. Before reaching the palate, the delicate aroma of sweet cream will fill your nose and once in your mouth the maturity of the cheese reveals itself from the sweet flavor at first taste into a more robust flavor in the finish.” [very similar to cow PF types, but very rich and creamy]
Moringhello di Bufala: (aged hard) “This small wheel of cheese packs a mighty flavor. After pouring the curd [into small baskets for draining), Bruno tucks it away in a warm part of the cheese plant overnight in order to lower the pH and increase…” [very mild, surprisingly]
Casatica di Bufala: (bloomy soft) Casatica di Bufala is named after one of the four entrances to the town where the Portoni farm is located. This special cheese is a blend of traditional Bergamo style recipe and contemporary ingenuity by the Gritti brothers who developed its characteristic shape to give Casatica a longer shelf life. The rind is a velvety white with the fragrance of freshly blossomed wildflowerss and the paste is soft, pearly white with thin holes. The milk flavor is sweet, delicate and creamy with a disinct flavor of pasture flowers and young grasses and slight acidity in the finish.” [very dense but bland]
Blu di Bufala: (blue, semi-hard) “A striking cheese in both appearance and taste, Blu di Bufala is made in Taleggio molds yet is about three times the height of a Taleggio. This blue-veined cheese balences milky rich and spicy flavors from the combination of both the paste and blue mold. The aroma is pleasantly intense and the flavor is persistent.” [mild, very rich and creamy, not lactic at all]