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Viva Bufala

There´s mozzarella – and there´s buffalo mozzarella. In Europe this is a premium product with a premium price tag. But buffalo milk is used is to make mozzarella-type chesses in many orther parts of the world.

The trade association which represents Italian producers of buffalo mozzarella describes mozzarella made from cows’ milk as “pleasant but absolutely tasteless”. However if it is made of buffalo milk, they say, mozzarella “becomes an altogether different matter”.

Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Nonetheless they have a point. Buffalo milk is very different to cows’ milk. It is pure white for one thing, lacking the carotene that gives cows’ milk its cream colour; and it is far more nutritious. It has a higher fat, vitamin and protein content than cows’ milk, and has less cholesterol.

Taken together, these elements mean that only fi ve kilograms of buffalo milk is needed to produce one kilogram of cheese, compared to eight kilograms of cows’ milk. Furthermore, the considerably higher proportion of milk solids in buffalo milk means that less energy is required to process it into dairy products.

Italy’s ‘Mozzarella di Bufala Campana’ is a high-quality artisan product that in 2008 was given Protected Geographical Status by the European Union. Any cheese sold under that trademark will have been produced from the milk of water buffalo raised in designated areas of central and southern Italy. There have been buffalo in this region for more than a thousand years, and almost all of the 200,000 tonnes of milk they provide each year goes into cheese making.

Fast Production

Classic mozzarella is eaten fresh – cheese prepared in the evening is ready the next morning. The production process is both quick and relatively simple. In fact, it can be made at home.

The milk is heated to 35°C, curdled and then allowed to 'rest' for about an hour, after which the whey is drained off. The curd is broken into small pieces, immersed in boiling water and spun until long ropes of cheese form, which the cheesemaker kneads until it becomes a smooth shiny paste. After kneading, the lump is molded and cut into balls or other shapes, which are stored in cold brine while they cool.

The cheese is ready, just eight hours after the milk is extracted from the buffalo's udder. Italy produces around 33,000 tonnes of this cheese each year, worth EUR 300m. Most of it is eaten locally, but 16 per cent is exported, mainly to other parts of the EU.

While ‘Mozzarella di Bufala Campana’ specifi es a particular product, Italy is not by any means the only country to produce a mozzarella-type cheese from buffalo milk – not even within Europe. There is a long history of buffalo rearing in Bulgaria, and of ‘mozzarella’ manufacture both there and in neighboring Romania. The Swiss make it too.

Worldwide, similar buffalo milk cheeses are produced in countries as varied as Australia and Venezuela, Thailand and Egypt.

But the true home of the buffalo – and of buffalo milk – is the Indian sub-continent. Not only were buffalo first domesticated in this region 4,500 years ago, but India with 59 million tonnes, and Pakistan with 20 million tonnes, account for 90 per cent of today’s global buffalo milk production.

Buffalo are the world’s second largest source of milk; and although they represent only 12 per cent of the global milk market, the superior nutritional value of their milk means that they make a greater contribution to world food supply than actual volumes would suggest.
And the animals themselves thrive on poor-quality forage not suitable for cattle.

Versatile

In India and Pakistan, buffalo milk is put to a huge range of uses. In India, for example, more than a quarter of total milk production is converted into ghee (butter oil, used in cooking), and a further 20 per cent into products such as curd and dairy-based sweets. But buffalo milk is also drunk as fresh milk; or dried; processed into a variety of cultured sour-milk products; made into ice cream; and into hard and soft cheeses. These include paneer, which is similar in many ways to mozzarella – and into ‘mozzarella’ itself.

In 2006 Man Mohan Malik set up a mozzarella factory in the foothills of the Himalayas. This single Indian plant has a capacity to produce 6,800 tonnes of the buffalo milk cheese a year – more than 20 per cent of Italy’s total production. It is supervised by an Italian cheesemaker from the traditional home of mozzarella di bufala, and its production is exported to the United States. This is globalization.

GEA and the buffalo Industry

Buffalo might look fierce, but they are in fact intelligent and sensitive animals. In general they require sober and patient treatment and milking them requires very gentle handling. Buffalo have longer teats than cows and it is physiologically more difficult to get the milk out of the udder.

GEA Farm Technologies uses StimoPuls with special pulsation settings for the preparation phase before milking that stimulates the buffalo in the right way to provide a high milk yield in a short time. Additionally the silicon liner developed by GEA Farm Technologies, with its soft shaft and low vacuum, supports a gentle and healthy milking of the buffalo.

One of its long-standing customers is Fattorie Garofalo, situated just north of Naples. This began 40 years ago as a simple artisan producer of the classic Mozzarella di Bufala Campana but they now milk 1,000 buffalo a day. Their cheese production factory is equipped with the latest automatic production and quality systems.

The water in which mozzarella is heated and stretched contains a variety of solids – proteins and fat. GEA Process Engineering company GEA Filtration has a range of microfiltration systems for the removal and recovery of these solids, which not only maintains the efficiency of the cheese production process, but also provides a valuable by-product.

GEA Process Engineering companies have been working with the buffalo industry for almost six decades. The first time that milk powder was ever produced from buffalo milk was in 1953 on a GEA Niro powder plant in India. And in 2007 GEA Process Engineering completed an entire EUR 3 million milk processing plant for Engro Foods in Pakistan, where 75 per cent of milk production is from buffalo.