In Città di Castello, Umbria, there is a farm with 140 grazing buffalo. This family-run business produces first-rate buffalo mozzarella
By Filippo Benedetti Valentini
White as porcelain and robust: everyone prefers the inimitable taste of buffalo mozzarella. That’s why in Umbria, a few kilometers from Città di Castello, there is a small business which has decided to specialize in this Italian delicacy.
“Fattoria Montelupo” is the only farm in Umbria which specializes in raising buffalo and making products from their milk. Located in the hills of Lerchi (a place where losing yourself among the country roads is tantamount to divine bliss), the business is run by the Paolo family. In 2003, they decided to import the venerable symbol of Made in Italy from Campania to Umbria.
Gianluca, 30 welcomes us. He’s the one who gets up at 5 a.m. to check on the buffalo and make sure things are ok. Stella, one of their first buffalo, recognizes him and sticks out her neck for a caress. “Their well-being comes first,” he says, “because when the animals are serene they produce better quality milk.” Another secret is their food: only hay, straw and corn flour – no GMOs. And a lot of free-range grazing. From birth onward, each one of these “ladies” can produce up to 8 liters of milk a day. It is then taken into the lab to be transformed into mozzarella. It’s there that the magic takes place. Gianluca and his siblings Cecilia (32) and Marco (19) learned from their parents, master cheesemakers from Campania.
The buffalo milk is heated to a temperature of 38 degrees. Natural whey and rennet are added. After about an hour, the milk curdles and the solid part – the curd, with which you make ricotta – separates out from the whey. Once drained, the curd is crushed and placed in a wooden vat with boiling water. Out comes a soft white mixture which is kneaded by hand (this is where the producers’ ‘signature’ is). The mozzarella is now ready. This soft pillow is then broken into smaller pieces which are put into a shaping machine. The pieces of mozzarella are dropped into cold water, which fixes their shape, and then transferred to the brine.
To eat a mozzarella like this is an extraordinary experience. Cut one in half and press it lightly with a fork. Like rapids in a river, drops of milk dribble onto the plate. The taste is soft and sweet. It’s best accompanied by a sliced tomato and covered with extravirgin olive oil or a few slices of sweet prosciutto. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, cut it into small cubes and drop them into your gazpacho.
Fattoria Montelupo’s products can be found in Città di Castello at Via Piero della Francesca 10, or at the Campagna amica Coldiretti market (tuesday in Città di Castello, wednesday in San Mariano in Perugia, thursday at Pian di Massiano in Perugia, friday in Foligno and saturday in Gubbio).