Buffalo mozzarella straight from . . . Macroom

 

AN IRISH farmer has imported water buffalo and is now producing buffalo mozzarella near Macroom.

Cork farmer Johnny Lynch and his neighbour and owner of the Real Olive Company, Toby Simmons, produced their first batch of Irish buffalo mozzarella last week.

Mr Simmons makes a distinction between these animals and American bison, the first Irish herd of which is resident in Tayto Park in Co Meath.

“The water buffalo are a milking dairy animal and are an extremely docile animal . . . Not at all like bison – you wouldn’t get them near a milking parlour,” he laughs.

Mr Simmons had been importing buffalo mozzarella for distribution through his network of olive stalls in markets around the country but could not keep up with demand. He was also aware that mozzarella, unlike other cheeses, has a short shelf life.

“Mozzarella is quite an unusual cheese in that you eat it soon after it’s made, so it’s optimal within hours of being made. Our mozzarella for example has a shelf life of around 10 days.

“I always thought it wouldn’t be possible to herd buffalo in Ireland but one day I Googled it and saw they were raising water buffalo in England and making mozzarella.”

He approached his friend, local farmer Johnny Lynch with the idea.

Although originally sceptical, Mr Lynch eventually came round. “We started doing the maths. A very big factor was that the price of milk was down to 20 cent a litre at the time,” Mr Lynch notes, adding the initial investment was offset by a Leader grant and the sale of Mr Lynch’s cow herd.

So, having initially imported a herd of 36 buffalo from Italy in September 2009, they now have a herd of 60 – mainly females for milking.

But was the farmer not nervous about such an adventurous undertaking in a recession? “Absolutely,” says Mr Lynch. “But the price of ordinary cow’s milk was brutally bad, and I thought well, if I switch it couldn’t get any worse.”

Then there were the hidden costs including the strengthening of the facilities, particularly in the milking parlour.

“I presume everyone else thought it was silly,” Mr Lynch said. But he is very glad he made the switch and hopes to expand in years to come.

Sixteen animals have already been born in Ireland.

Then there were the hidden costs: “On the farm we had to do quite a lot of strengthening of the facilities. They are extremely docile animals but they have the ability to twist metal,” Mr Simmons says.

“There was a huge amount of interest . . . especially on a Sunday, people slowing down in their cars and taking pictures,” Mr Simmons says.

The mozzarella, branded under the name of the creamery in which it is produced, the Toonsbridge Dairy, is not available in shops.

However, Mr Simmons intends to supply restaurants and hopes to go wholesale next year.

The buffalo are also due to feature in their own TG4 documentary made by Italian film maker Manuela Corbari.