Buffalo Gals

First, an admission. I am not as well-travelled as I’d like to be. While I’ve been to most major cities in the US and Canada, I’ve never been across the big pond. Given my feelings about the environmental impact of travelling for pleasure, not to mention the fact that I just hate the process of travelling in general (waiting in airports, jammed onto a plane for hours next to someone with toxic perfume, etc) it is unlikely that I will end up seeing a lot of the world in my lifetime. Living in Toronto, that’s not really a big issue, as I’m lucky enough to be able to hop on a cross-town streetcar and be transported to Athens or Seoul or Bombay for the very reasonable cost of $2.75, but there are occasional things that even the wonders of globalization cannot bring to the most multicultural city in the world.

Things like buffalo mozzarella, that are consumed near where they’re made and generally are past their prime by the time they reach a destination on another continent. I always figured that until I was able to travel to Italy, I’d never get to enjoy the real stuff.

Oh, I’d eaten bocconcini, made locally from pasteurized cow’s milk and sold in tubs. Slightly softer than regular mozzarella, I found the stuff to be pretty bland and tasteless, although the various sizes of little cheese balls were fun to put in salad. I never really got the “silky” description though – most of the stuff I ended up with had the consistency and bounce of one of those hard little superballs you could get in gum machines as a kid. You’d whip them at the floor and they’d bounce forever off of every surface, until your Mom would come and yell at you lest the thing took out a piece of the Royal Doulton collection. Suffice to say that in the grand realm of cheese, bocconcini really wasn’t near the top of my list.

Then Greg called me from the aisles of Pusateri’s. Did I want some real buffalo mozzarella? I was recovering from the stomach flu at the time but said sure, as long as I didn’t have to eat it right away.

When I finally got around to opening the cheese – it came in a sealed plastic tub – I wasn’t expecting much. We had some nice ciabatta buns, some decent local tomatoes and some fresh basil to make sandwiches. I peeled off the wrapper and drained off the whey, holding the single tennis-ball sized lump of cheese in my hand. Right away, I could tell the difference.

The consistency was soft, squishy almost, and when I sliced into the cheese, it cut unevenly. Silky is a great description of this cheese because the texture was almost exactly like silken tofu. I split the ball between the two sandwiches and drizzled both with a mixture of a rare fruity olive oil and some fig balsamic vinegar laced with fleur de sels.

Flavour-wise, there is no comparison with the pasteurized cow’s milk version. Even after its long journey and time spent in my fridge, the buffalo milk cheese had a sweet tang, and smelled of grass. What I mean to say is that it actually HAD flavour, whereas the stuff we have access to most of the time tastes like nothing, just bland and white. To the tooth, the buffalo mozzarella gave way, crumbling almost and falling out of the edges of the sandwich. The rubbery bounce we were accustomed to was not there at all.

At $10 for 200g, this is obviously going to be more expensive than your supermarket bocconcini, but it’s comparable to many other good imported cheeses (for instance, aged Mimolette runs about $14 for the same quantity). It’s a high-fat cheese; 100g has 23g of fat, close to half of the recommended daily intake of fat (the sneaky little Canadian nutritional label shows a serving size as being 28g – about 1/8 of the ball – HA!! with only 6g of fat), so even without it being hard to find, it’s definitely not something you could eat every day.

So the lack of availability is probably a good thing. But if it shows up again, we will definitely treat ourselves. After all, a trip to Pusateri’s is cheaper and easier than a flight to Italy.