30 December 2017

Italy 2016, Day 6.1 - Big Black Buffalos

On day six we moved from Rome to the next city, Vico Equense. And, yay, we have our "ol' faithful" driver back from last year--Giuseppe of Lucca. Pick up was 07:15. His large van fit all 14 of us which meant we were traveling in one vehicle (looked brand new) for the rest of the trip. He loaded us and our tons of luggage and belongings, a little bit of a puzzle. Then off we went to the Campania region.


On the way we saw this structure--a see-through web of metal. Not sure what it was, but fascinating. Italians are soooo design savvy.

It was a 2-hour drive to our first stop. At 09:30 we arrived at Torre (tower) Lupara-DOP, a mozzarella di buffalo cheese processing facility. Just as Italian wines are certified "genuine" by DOC and DOCG markings, foods like prosciutto and cheeses as certified by a DOP label. The location, manufacturing process, and materials are very strict before you can use this designation.

We met Manuela Vigliotta and her husband (right) (Chef John on left), developers and owners. They are absolutely the cutest couple. The family has owned the business since the 1940s. 

The vibrant Manuela led our tour. First we walked down a hallway, where we saw the cheese-making process step-by-step though a long viewing window. She explained the activity from raw water buffalo milk to the final cheese product as we watched the workers at various stops along the way.


We've been to several cheese processing places, but this was quite modern, mostly mechanized, and particularly conscious of sanitation and environmental issues. I won't describe the process again as I have done it a few times, but here are some photos of the operation.


Lots of stainless steel equipment. Much of this equipment was developed by the family in the 80s, including kneading, stretching, and forming machines.





Various sizes of "ball forming" dies.
Forming the mozzarella balls.
Mozzarella balls floating and resting in their whey.
Sometimes it takes the human touch of two to stretch, shape, and forming the product.
Finished product of a fresh mozzarella braid.
Packaging machine.




Next we blue bootied up (to protect the water buffalo from any infection on our shoes). Manuela showed us posters to educate us on statistics and demonstrate their farming process.



Here is a photo of just some of the land where they raise livestock. The pinkish house mid-right is where we would taste cheese samples.

Then we saw the long sheds where the buffalo live at night and are protected from weather. There are ten altogether and each has its own birthing room and nursery.


A feeding area.


So as you can see these "cow" gals are nothing like the brown American bison / buffalo with their curly, shaggy "manes." These are water buffalo, the kind you'd see in Viet Nam era news reels in the rice patties. These have black hair, longish horns, and oh so sweet faces.


They are huge but seemed so docile you just wanted to reach out and pet them, but that was a no-no for health reasons...the buffalo's health. All have yellow ear tags and some also have various colors of ankle bracelets for identification.

As these are water buffalo, it makes sense that they like to hang out in the water. So each of the ten sheds has its own garden and dipping pond. Pools are set up with a long gradual slope from barn to water. The buffalo can leisurely stroll in or out at will, but they were mostly in while we were there. So cute, I must have taken over 100 photos. Here's a few.



The two tanks in back are a water purification system that separates the dung and urine from the waters. Their capacity is 4,000 cubic meters of liquid and 1,000 of solid waste. One meter of liquid is 244 gallons!! If I remember correctly, they change the pond waters twice a day.

Stacy taking a photo. They were so curious, all staring at us as we strolled along.
There were a few calves mixed in, but mostly grown-ups.
They had shady areas to keep cool.
Showers are set up to help keep them cool as well.

Manuela feeding the buffalo and telling us what a happy and contented life they have. Less stress helps them produce higher quantity and better quality of wonderful water buffalo milk.

Long eyelashes.





To be continued...

Italy 2016, Day 6.2 - Buffalo Milk to Mozzarella

Next we learned about the automated milking process. It is essentially the same as the cow milking process, but this family invented a milking machine that works better for the female water buffalo. They are milked twice a day
--04:00 and 16:00. Milking time per buffalo is about 7.5 minutes.

Buffalos automatically head to the two milking houses at the right times. Each house handles twenty-two animals at a time. They are showered, their nipples sanitized and massaged, and then get hooked up to their milking machines. Machines stop automatically when milking is complete. Cows produce 30 liters of milk per day compared to 7-8 liters produced by these buffalo gals.

Each buffalo has a microchip which is connected to the milk they produce. A doctor checks animals every morning for any health issues.

Again, the process here is pretty automated. Milk is measured and evaluated with buttons and digital read-outs, and then piped to the cheese-making area. We were sorry to miss the actual milking process, but not here at the right time of day.

Other facts:
- They have about 1,500 water buffalo on this farm--650 calves and 850 adults. 500 of those are milked twice a day.
- These buffalo eat only from vegetation grown in the surrounding fields. Soil is rich from the long history of a three volcano environment.
- Each buffalo eats 40 kilos of mainly corn and alfalfa per day.
- Sixty percent of their product is exported out of the country and Japan is their biggest customer.
- They are known for the quality and breeding of their animals, so farms around the world buy buffalo livestock from here.
Buffalos have four stomachs to process their food to milk (the same as cows).
- There are two veterinarian doctors and two vet labs on site.
- The natural water in the ponds comes from mountain flow.
- Artificial insemination is used to impregnate their buffalo.
- Gestation period is 281-334 days and babies are born in September.
- They don't take milk from pregnant cows or new mothers.
- Can start milking at three years old.
- Animals often live to 30 years old, but give good milk for 18 years.
- There is a family church on the premises.

Next stop...the tasting room. Yahoo! It was a big adobe-colored building with little "towers" on the upper level.

The room was decorated beautifully with lots of "buffalo art."


We had a number of courses. Each, in part at least, involved bufalo di mozzarella, fresh from the farm. Courses went something like this:

Bread, olive oil, fig marmalade (Mike was in heaven), honey, and mozzarella sampler. One sample was even in a little heart-shape.

Mozz, sausage, and salumi (salami) platter. Braided mozz. Salad.

Above lower left is smoked mozz with two amounts of smokiness--a bit salty and drier, but still delish.

Pasta with chunks of mozz.

Pistachio and hazelnut ice creams made with buffalo milk. Oh, so rich and wonderful.

And, of course, wine with every course. It was interesting to see and taste the various ways mozz can be presented all at one time. I never thought I could get my fill of fresh mozz, but today I came darn close.

All the while we listened to hard rock, but soft volume music such as the Doors' "Come On, Baby, Light My Fire."

OK, roll me down the steps, into the van, and on to the next course ... oh I mean next stop. Manuela waved good-bye as she and her pup got back to farm chores.













I think this was Mike's favorite stop of the whole trip. To learn more, go to:
www.aziendacesaregiulioiemma.it

24 December 2017

Italy 2016, Day 5.5 - Where Are the Cats?

We visited the Sacra di Largo Argentina area on our first day in Rome. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this is the largest cat sanctuary in Rome. I had only noticed one cat amongst the architectural ruins, so I wanted to find it again to survey the cats a little more. I thought I knew the way, but never did run into that area (which was actually quite close to the hotel). Dang!

My other goal was to get back to the Trevi Fountain. Again on our first day, my camera ran out of juice by the time we got there, so no pix. This time I got quite a few and also had some coins to throw in "to assure another trip to Rome."


I discovered lots of other things on my walk-about. I made it back to the Pantheon. This time it was a sunny day, so you could see the beautiful blue sky through the open air oculus.
Took a few cool car pix for Mike.

Lots of shops, many with religious items. Never saw a shop before that JUST sold rosaries (no pix).


Noticed a number of fountains wherever I went. Found out these were left over from the 1870s. Throughout Roman history, it was an important concept that citizens had easy access to safe drinking water. Thus the Trevi Fountain and aqueduct system and the "nasoni."

The nasoni (which means big nose, referring to the spout) offer free, very safe drinking water to this day. About 2,500 are installed throughout the city. They are made of cast iron, about three feet tall, and 200 pounds. The water runs continuously in all of them, but is not wasted. It goes to a reservoir for watering parks and gardens. I haven't really seen people drinking out of them, but a few dogs.
Saw numerous niche alters to the Madonna. This was a particularly pretty one.
Many rooftop gardens. Must be some hum-dinger views from there. 
More monuments. This sculpture is Bernini's elephant (1667) topped with Egyptian obelisk in Piazza della Minerva. Ancient Romans used them in the Punic Wars fought between Rome and Carthage (current day Tunisia) from 264-146 BC.
Well, I didn't see the cats, but I saw a lot of interesting and fun stuff. I also was lost in the streets of Rome. I wandered until I saw something familiar and then worked my way back from there. Did have to stop twice to ask for directions. It was a little confusing though as I wanted the Navona Hotel and folks suggested the Piazza Navona. Two different things.

I was a little panicky though because it was getting late and dark. Finally found two fellows that spoke English and they got me headed the right way to the hotel. I think I finally got back around 19:00.

Neither Mike nor I were hungry. We hoped to meet our friends Lynn and Sandy for a cocktail. Knocked on their door, but no answer. So we went up to the rooftop bar on our own and, lo and behold, that's where they were.

It was chilly, but lovely. The sunset was spectacular from our rooftop view. It was a wonderful way to end our last night in Rome. Sunset, best friends, cocktails, a few appetizers, and cuddling from the cold.