I love all mozzarella. But mozzarella made from the milk of water buffalo is a true delight — softer and richer than common cow's milk mozz, with a distinctive lactic tang that reminds you it came from a burly beast. But the traditional variety from Campania in southern Italy has long been a splurge, more expensive than the standard cow's milk cheese, and often inconsistent in availability and quality. But Būf just might be a mozzarella game-changer. This impressive new product, launched recently for wide international distribution in the organic supermarket niche, has arrived from an unexpected source: Colombia. Buffaloes in the tropics? In fact, the water buffalo, which originated in South Asia, has long been prized in South America as a reliable beast of burden. It was only fairly recently that Alejandro Gomez Torres cofounded Būf to begin harnessing their magical dairy powers for the export market, and suddenly it's everywhere — all Whole Foods Markets (which exclusively sells an organic version), MOM's Organic Markets, and Carlino's in Ardmore, where I first came across it.
Būf draws milk from about 1,200 free-range buffaloes in both the high-altitude Andes Mountains and the lowlands, which gets blended for consistency. Their grass-fed diet results in a lower fat content than the typical milk of Italian buffaloes, and in a somewhat milder, less gamy flavor that slightly mutes the cheese's signature tang by a notch. Būf (short for bufala) is also slightly firmer than its Italian counterpart because it's manufactured with a longer shelf life in mind (48 days vs. 28 for the Italian variety). Those factors of texture and taste keep Būf from supplanting the finest Italian versions in my mind. But it is still a very, very good cheese — especially in the larger "ovoline" ball format, which retains the maximum character. And perhaps taming the water buffalo's big personality just a shade, and producing it at a lower price, is what's needed for this specialty product to find a wider audience. Būf uses a longer culture to render its cheese lactose-free (not all buffalo milk is lactose-free), so those with intolerance (like my son) can enjoy Caprese salads again. With Būf, though, we may want to try it Torres' favorite way — as a tropical-style "patocone" with tomato, mozzarella, and basil layered over a crispy fried plantain. This mozzarella moment is not in Campania anymore.
– Craig LaBan