Antonio Palmieri relentlessly pursued pioneering research into how to make the highest quality mozzarella, with the happiest, healthiest buffalo. For starters, the cheese is organic, but there is more. The buffalo never get vaccines, hormones or artificial insemination. They are fed organic fodder, grown on the estate, are treated only with homeopathic remedies, and live in extraordinary circumstances.
Palmieri decided to break all the molds and set up a model farm that allowed the buffalo a lot of freedom while complying with EU rules stating that they must be inside an enclosed structure . Gone are uncomfortable stalls, set milking schedules and tight quarters. The “barn” is enormous (50,000 sq. meters) with open air sides and four quadrants, and only 300 buffalo in the space.
The female buffalo start off in the area for eating. Two bulls are there with them. Palmieri discovered that one bull didn’t perform alone. Two provides just the right amount of competition.
Next, they move into the “spa” area at their own pace where they each have their own mattress to lie down on (to the right). There are also moving brushes that provide back rubs.
When their teats are uncomfortably full, they stand patiently in line at the automatic milking station.
Palmieri worked years to design and perfect this custom machine with a Swedish company. It reads a chip in the buffalo that tells it exactly where its teats are, attaches, milks for 4-5 minutes, and detaches. The buffalo goes back into the eating area and begins the circuit again.
The mothers give birth once a year. They produce milk for 10 months, then, have two months of freedom out in the pastures. As I was leaving the barn, a new calf had just been born.
Beginning at 4:30 am every day, the fresh buffalo milk is heated with rennet to 36 degrees Celsius and coagulates into curd.
The large pieces are put through a machine to mince them up, then the pieces are put into a vat with hot water…
…and slowly, rhythmically stirred by hand.
Once it is ready, the men pull it by hand, then, shape it into balls or plait it into braids. The dance of teamwork that is amazing to watch.
The final product is left to cool.
Antonio Palmieri talked to me in more detail about the project, explaining how difficult it has been to do something completely “out of the box”. People thought he was crazy since the family, business, founded in the beginning of the 1900s was established and successful as it was. Palmieri still lives in the family home at the center of the estate
There was also many kinds of resistance to one producer stepping out to set such a high standard of quality. But Antonio Palmieri is obsessed with quality.
The word seems to be out. Vannulo has a room for buying the fresh mozzarella beginning at 9:30 in the morning. When I arrived at 9:15, the line already stretched out the door. My # was 85. With time to spare, I went into the cafe for a coffee. All the Vannulo buffalo products are available: milk, yogurt, butter, ricotta, bread, ice cream and chocolate.
There is also a leather shop with fine, handmade products.
Vannulo sends the hides to be tanned in an artisanal tannery (no chemicals) in Florence, then, the leather is worked in Paestum.
I took mozzarella to dinner with friends that evening. It was light, fresh and full of flavor. It is one of those treats that can only be enjoyed in the place and in the moment. Needless to say, Vannulo mozzarella cannot be bought outside of Paestum (except on private jets delivering to special customers).
Tours can be arranged in advance. Highly recommended.
via Galileo Galilei, 101