If you happen to find yourself driving down around the hilly farmlands around Macroom in west Cork, you may come across a strange sight.
Down a narrow road in between pastures and farmyards a herd of black water buffalo of the mediterranean variety may be staring back at you as you drive by.
These large gentle creatures, with majestic horns and shaggy hair, were brought here from Italy by an opportunistic and adventurous farmer looking to diversify into cheese making of the kind Ireland hadn’t experienced before.
Buffalo milk has a higher fat and protein content than cows milk making it creamier, thicker and richer than cows milk.
This makes it ideal for the production of a cheese like mozzarella which is a fresh cheese, relying on texture and good quality of the milk rather than maturation.
Like all of our amazing dairy products, the buffalo mozzarella produced in this country is some of the best you will ever taste, winning international awards and now featuring on menus in top cafes and restaurants around the island.
Compared to the rubbery supermarket mozzarella usually made with cows milk on the continent for mass production, good quality buffalo mozzarella is a completely different experience.
You can now get Irish buffalo mozzarella in a wide range of supermarkets, farmers’ markets and artisan food stores so there really is no excuse for buying the imported low grade stuff.
We love to use mozzarella in the summer, usually torn in a salad or just as is, seasoned with sea salt and olive oil. It is a far more superior experience in our opinion to eat this product simply as it is, torn open to reveal its creamy insides and paired with fresh summer vegetables.
We also love to use Burrata, which is like a pouch of mozzarella filled with cream and stracciatella (shreds of cheese curd).
The three recipes we have included here, two with mozzarella and one with burrata, use the cheeses simply, not overly fiddled with, just seasoned and paired with some wonderful things like gnocchi, pickles, tomatoes, and figs.
Pickled walnuts are a strange ingredient, sometimes you come across it in a little brown jar, on a dusty shelf between the pickled onions and maybe the Worcester sauce and oxo cubes.
Green Herb and Lemon dressing:
Peel the potatoes and boil them in salted water, for around 30 minutes. You should be easily able to stab a skewer through them after this time.
Drain from the water and using a wooden spoon push the potatoes through a tight mesh sieve into a bowl.
Gently sprinkle the flour in batches into the mashed potato, folding through to combine each time until you are left with an elastic dough like mash.
Sparsley flour a board and roll the dough out into long sausages.
They should also be roughly the circumference of a butcher’s sausage. Cut the sausages into 3cm pieces and place on a floured plate or trey until ready to use. Cover so they don’t dry out.
Combine all the ingredients of the herb dressing in a blender, blitzing until you have a bright green, runny sauce.
Bring a large heavy bottomed saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the gnocci, 10 or 12 at a time.
The gnocchi cooks quickly and you will know when they’re done when they float and bob on the surface of the water.
Allow to drain on paper towels when done.
Divide gnocchi into bowls, tear the mozzarella into large pieces and add to the bowls. Add the sliced pickled walnuts, grated pecorino and a generous drizzle of the green herb and lemon dressing.
How beautiful and perfect are figs?
When ripe they are sticky, sweet and heavy with flavour.
The skins can be eaten along with the pink and unctuous flesh.
Sliced thinly and balanced out with warm peppery honey, we like to serve this with torn, creamy burrata, insides splayed out on a large serving platter to be attacked by hungry forks.
Serves 4 as a light lunch
Slice the fligs into three or four slices per fig and arrange on one side of a platter.
In a small saucepan gently heat the honey, sprigs of thyme and black pepper until just about simmering.
Pour the black pepper honey over the figs, coating them all evenly.
On the clear side of the platter, tear open the burrata balls, spilling their creamy insides out and drizzle some good olive oil over, seasoning lightly with salt.
This is a really simple recipe, pairing two very good seasonal things; tomatoes and fresh buffalo mozzarella.
We do very little here, leaving everything whole, this recipe is about bringing out the flavours of the tomatoes by cooking them slowly, seasoning minimally with good extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, garlic, and fresh basil, serving it with a perfect white ball of mozzarella, firm on the outside but soft and creamy when you cut into it.
Pure, simple indulgence.
Use good ripe heritage tomatoes and play around with different varieties like firmer green ones which will resist being baked a little more, staying robust or oblong plum ones which will become intense, ready to explode in the heat.
Preheat the oven to 120 degrees celcius.
Place the tomatoes, whole, in a small roasting tin and scatter over the chopped garlic, thyme and rosemary.
Cover in olive oil and season with sea salt. Bake slowly for 2½ to 3 hours until the tomatoes are soft, hot and ready to burst.
Serve in a bowl with a ball of mozzarella with some cooking juices, olive oil, salt and fresh basil.