Mmmmmmm buffalo mozzarella or mozzarella di bufalo… the thought of it brings to mind a delicious white orb with a soft center that melts in your mouth! Yummmmm I’m drooling as I’m thinking about it right now. So where does this delightful cheese come from? Well, did you know that fresh buffalo mozzarella is made from the milk of a water buffalo? Not a cow! So let me tell you an inspiring story about how buffalo mozzarella is made with the most amount of love possible.
Most of the buffalo mozzarella found in the US is imported from Italy hence mozzarella di bufalo. This also means it’s most likely not fresh or previously frozen. However, if you live in Northern California or plan to visit San Francisco (or wine country like Napa/Sonoma), then you have an opportunity to taste fresh locally made-in-the-USA buffalo mozzarella.
My friend and I were looking to stop and do some cheese tasting on our way to visit some wineries in Sonoma County. We decided on a whim to visit Ramini Mozzarella but little did we know, we would get a much more inspiring story out of the whole experience!
Ramini Mozzarella is a must stop on the California Cheese Trail (yes, that’s a real thing!). Ramini is the only water buffalo farm in California (possibly the only one in the entire US) so it’s the only place to get fresh authentic handcrafted buffalo mozzarella. This is a family owned and run business.
The cheese tasting is part of a tour. I use the phrase “tour” lightly because the whole experience is about learning about farm and the history of buffalo mozzarella. The farm’s journey from the beginning to present day is an extremely touching story that almost brought me to tears.
An Inspiring Story
A husband (Craig) and wife (Audrey) team started the water buffalo farm in 2009. They started with 5 water buffalo and now have 50. Each one is named after famous musician. When they started the farm, neither one of them had any animal husbandry, ranching, or cheesemaking experience. He had worked in Silicon Valley and she in interior design, but they had a mutual love for animals and food. So they ditched everything they knew and started the farm with a dream to raise water buffalo and be the first Americans to make fresh artisan buffalo mozzarella.
Sadly, five years later with the business thriving, Craig was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Audrey took over running the farm by herself while he underwent treatment. He was in remission for 6 months and things were starting to look up.
But after a month, he started to feel unwell again, and the cancer was now in his spine and brain. Tragically, three months later, Craig passed away. With the animals depending on her, Audrey had to go back to work and reopened the farm only a month later.
Audrey is an incredibly inspiring woman. She has run the farm for a few years by herself now with help from a few volunteers and hand makes the cheese all on her own. The farm has become a labor of love in Craig’s memory. These cheese tasting tours are one way for her to make some additional money in order to keep the farm operating.
Making Cheese With Love
As part of the tour, she describes what it’s like to care for water buffalo and how they are milked. You visit the milking barn and the creamery facilities, where the cheese making process is also explained.
Water buffalo are actually very docile and sweet animals almost like giant dogs. They’re extremely sensitive and gentle creatures. When water buffalo are happy, their tails will curl up to indicate their content.
Audrey provides lots of loving attention to the mothers with a reward system in order to get them to release their milk. Their milking process sounded a lot more humane in comparison to the practices on a cow dairy farm.
Water buffalo produce less milk than cows, about 1/4 of what a cow produces. In contrast, water buffalo milk has more protein, fat, and calcium as well as less cholesterol than cow milk. Since water buffalo milk has almost twice the amount of fat in cows milk, buffalo mozzarella cheese has a different texture and creamier taste than regular mozzarella cheese made from cow milk. There’s also no lactose in buffalo mozzarella.
Audrey makes each ball of buffalo mozzarella by hand. The recipe was perfected after multiple attempts. Craig had even gone to Italy to learn from the best cheesemakers there and was able to apply their knowledge to Ramini Mozzarella.
Of course, we were able to sample Ramini Mozzarella during the cheese tasting after the tour. The buffalo mozzarella tasted fresh, light, and creamy – absolutely mouth-watering delicious! You can taste the love and appreciate all the hard work that went into making the cheese.
You also get a chance to purchase some cheese to take away with you at the end of your visit. Ramini Mozzarella is only sold to local Bay Area restaurants and a few select retailers so you won’t find it in the supermarkets.
Petting Baby Water Buffalo
At the very end of the tour and cheese tasting, you have the chance to pet baby water buffalo and see firsthand how these gentle creatures respond to love and affection. Wait what? Yes, that’s right! You can interact with the animals which turned out to be the best part of the visit!
It was heart-warming to see Audrey open the farm to visitors and share the experience of socializing with the animals. Who wouldn’t want to pet and brush baby water buffalo? They are so much more adorable and cute in person than you would expect!
An amazing thing about baby water buffalo is when they get overly excited, happy, and content, they lose all muscle control in their legs and collapse on the ground! Doesn’t seem like a great defense mechanism here… 🙂
So we got pet and brush the babies until they literally couldn’t take it anymore and would fall to the floor. Once they are lying down, you were required to give them belly rubs. And you couldn’t give all your attention to just one as the others would feel left out and nudge you for attention too.
It was hilarious to watch the babies “die” from love. This experience was by far, the most fun part of the day! Sadly, no pictures of any water buffalo on the ground because I was too busy having fun that I forgot to take photos.
Based on the reactions from the water buffalo babies, it is no surprise that even adult water buffalo respond to the loving tactics. After seeing the number of water buffalo on the farm and learning about all the work that goes into running the farm and creating cheese, it was truly inspiring to imagine Audrey doing everything on her own.
Mainly went for the cheese but got so much more out of the experience than expected!
I have a huge appreciation for her perseverance to continue working. You can hear the passion and devotion she has for the water buffalo when you listen to her speak. Throughout the tour, you can hear and feel the love that goes into the farm and making the cheese. Visiting Ramini is a very unique and eye-opening experience that’s worth the visit to get up close and personal with the water buffalo!
How to Visit Ramini Mozzarella
Please support the farm especially if you are a San Francisco local or ever plan to visit the Bay Area or Northern California wine country.
The farm is located in Tomales, California. It’s a half hour drive from Santa Rosa or a little over an hour north of San Francisco. You can take scenic Route 1 (also known as PCH or Pacific Coast Highway) and pass through Point Reyes, where you can stop for fresh oysters. You can also stop at Stinson Beach, Muir Woods, or Mt. Tam (Mount Tamalpais) along the way. It’s a beautiful drive with gorgeous scenery and landscapes.
Book here for a 2 hour tour and tasting on a Sat for $25 per person. I would budget 2.5-3 hours for the entire experience since you want to have enough time to pet the baby water buffalo, which is a must-do. If you want, you can also bring a picnic to have with your cheese tasting on the tables that are set up outside.
Note it is a real working farm so think mud, hay, dirt, and live animals… Therefore, I suggest wearing closed toe shoes as you may step in some poo!