Where the water buffalo roam

All farms have a beginning, but how many of their stories start with cheese?

The story of Fading D Farm, a North Carolina water buffalo dairy, does. During a trip to Italy, David and Faythe DiLoreto fell in love with mozarella di buffate, traditional mozzarella made with water buffalo milk.  Back in the United States, they looked for the cheese but couldn’t find it. Fresh mozzarella must be eaten within a few days of being made, so getting it from Italy wasn’t practical. They’d never farmed or made cheese, yet they decided to try their hand at both.

They already had the land but needed to find the animals to start their herd. Most water buffalo are raised for either meat or to work in sugarcane fields, so there aren’t a lot of animals bred with a focus on milk production. They ended up buying many animals secondhand – after the original owners realized how difficult and expensive it is to keep them. Adult water buffalo can weigh 2,000 pounds. Their horns, the first thing I noticed when the herd came to greet us at the fence, never stop growing. The animals graze the farm’s pastures, receving additional hay in the winter.

Cows spend nine to 11 months pregnant before giving birth to a calf. The couple gives female calves cheese names like Rella (short for mozzarella), and Eggnog, who was born near Christmas. The males get meat names so “everybody knows where they are headed in life.”  Having animals harvested and processed can be a challenge. There aren’t many facilities that handle exotic, horned animals. 

The cows produce about .5 gallon of milk per day, compared with a Holstein cow (the black and white spotted ones) that average 6 to 7 gallons a day. This high-quality milk has about 30% more protein and twice the butterfat of cow’s milk. Sold on the shelf, water buffalo milk sells for around $40 a gallon. The cows produce such a small amount of milk that it’s all needed for cheesemaking.

The farm sells meat and cheese from the farm’s store and at local farmers markets. What started as a desire for genuine mozzarella has turned into a second career and thriving agribusiness with a unique story all its own.

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