Sunday, August 14, 2011

Licked by Tina Turner

A couple of weekends ago I was at the San Rafael farmers market. When I stopped by the information booth I noted they were offering free copies of a map entitled “Explore the Sonoma Marin Cheese Trail – A Guide to Sonoma and Marin Cheesemakers.” You can go here to find a story about the map – put out by the Marin Economic Forum – and to download a PDF copy of the map. Thanks to the MEF and the other sponsors for this valuable resource.

When I got home that morning and sat down to look over the map I expected that I would recognize all of the places on the map. There were certainly a number that I knew well, but also a number that I did not. However, one in particular, caught my eye – Ramini Mozzarella – in part because that was the only one on the map that used a “W” in the “Type of Animal Category” – namely, water buffalo.

I have always liked mozzarella cheese, although almost all of that which one finds here in the US is made from cow’s milk. However, if you have ever had the real “mozzarella di bufala” made from water buffalo milk coming from the Italian region of Campania south of Naples, you know there is no comparison. Hence, the suggestion that we may have some locally produced mozzarella di bufala was pretty exciting.

However, what was even more exciting was that when I visited the Ramini website, I noted that although the projected start of commercial production is not until the Spring of next year, it suggested that one could visit their farm even now. I have always wanted to see a water buffalo up close, so I decided to give them a call and a moment later was speaking with Craig Ramini. He invited us to stop by one day, and after enlisting Andrew, Connie and Alex, got back to Craig and made a date for yesterday morning.

I found that Jeremy Blackman had done a very comprehensive article about Craig and his project in April for the Point Reyes Light which you can find here. That article and the information about water buffalos on the Ramini website provide a good deal of background information which I will not try to repeat here.

So on Saturday I picked up the gang and we headed north for Craig’s ranch. Although the more scenic route would be to head up Route 1 along the coast through Point Reyes Station and Tomales, we did not want to spend that much time so instead just took Highway 101 to Petaluma and then, after a pit stop at Della Fattoria for a yummy breakfast (poached eggs with prosciutto and spinach over polenta for me!), headed west toward the coast, through Two Rock, and on to Ramini Mozzarella.

As reported in the Blackman article, Craig has leased a plot from Stemple Creek Ranch, and the entrance includes signs for both.

In fact the building that Craig is remodeling to serve as his milking barn and cheese making facility is right next to some other facilities used by Stemple Creek Ranch for their cattle operation.

Craig met us and initially showed us around the barn. They still have a ways to go to complete the remodeling, but they are on schedule and making good progress.

After that, Craig suggested we walk out to the pasture to meet the buffalo. Having just gotten back from a trip to Yellowstone where they discourage close contact with bison, I have to say I was a bit apprehensive about Craig’s suggestion.

However, Craig assured us that although one wanted to be cautious and not startle them, that water buffalo were gentle and curious animals which would soon be licking us and asking to be scratched. The comparison he made was to “overgrown Labrador puppies.” In any case, with Craig’s coaching we ventured into the pasture and ended up having a great time with the herd.

Craig and the Herd

I have to admit I am not sure whether it was Tina Turner, Grace Slick or Janis Joplin who licked me in the pasture (Craig has named all of the buffalo after rock and roll singers), but they were all certainly soft and friendly tongues. We wish Craig all the best with his project and hope that come next Summer we will all be enjoying fresh tomatoes and basil with equally fresh Ramini mozzarella di bufala!

No comments: