Between towering Ancient Greek temples and the pristine Mediterranean Sea lies the vast Piana del Sele Paestum. Known for millennia as the “plain of the gods,” this region of Campania in southern Italy is also home to the water buffalo that produce some of the world’s most heavenly mozzarella.
The Cliente coast, where Paestum is located, is wilder than its Amalfi cousin, with 100 kilometers of protected coastline and some of Italy’s most pristine beaches. I went to Paestum to visit the ancient temples there, which are some of the most well-preserved outside of Greece. Lucky for me the SS18, the region’s main road, is also known as the “Mozzarella Highway.” Between temples, I took the opportunity to visit Barlotti Caseificio, one of the region’s oldest mozzarella producers.
The Barlotti farm has over a century of mozzarella-making experience. They also produce a variety of other buffalo milk products, including butter and ricotta. So what is so special about Barlotti cheese? Besides its farm-fresh flavor and delicate creamy texture, Barlotti mozzarella is PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) certified, which means it meets a series of strict requirements regarding the type of milk used and the cheese-making process itself. True mozzarella di bufala Campana must be made with the milk of water buffalo from Campana and nowhere else.
No one really knows when water buffalo first appeared in Italy. Some say they arrived in the 6th century with the barbarian invasions, others during the Norman conquest of Sicily, but historians are sure that water buffalo were comfortably settled in southern Italy by the 12th century. You will see plenty of them on a visit to the Barlotti farm, either grazing in the fields or being milked in their specially-designed stables. If you visit, you’ll get a peek into the entire cheese-making process, from milking the buffalos all the way to shaping the curd. But get there early because the cheese goes fast – by noon, you’ll be lucky if there’s any left to buy!
Mozzarella di bufala is a pasta filata, or stretched curd cheese. The name mozzarella comes from the word mozzatura, which means shaping. Instead of being placed into a mold after being cut, the curd is shaped and stretched by hand, which gives it a unique, elastic texture. At the Barlotti farm, I watched curd being shaped into classic mozzarella balls and pinched off into smaller bocconcino before being placed in a water-whey mixture. Some of the cheese was stretched into thick braids or even smoked.
If you go to Barlotti and buy some mozzarella, be sure to eat it at room temperature to appreciate all the flavor. It only keeps a few days after being made, but I doubt you’ll be able to resist eating it right away!