Photographed by Nina Gallant | Styled by Kendra Smith
Water buffalo are not an uncommon sight in Southern Italy, where cheesemakers turn their rich milk into mozzarella, ricotta, and other fresh cheeses. In the northern part of the country, however, they are a rarity, and it is rarer, still, to use their milk for aged cheeses. The animals and the cheeses are what set Quattro Portoni, a family farmstead creamery in the village of Cologno al Serio, near Bergamo, apart.
For several decades, the family maintained a herd of Fresian cows and sold the liquid milk until quotas made the business unsustainable. In 2000, brothers Bruno and Alfio Gritti made the bold decision to sell their herd and replace it with water buffalo, which are housed in open barns and feed on forage grown on the farm. “This choice was a purely economic choice on one hand and completely visionary on the other,” says Roberta Gritti, Quattro Portoni’s director of communications. “Economical because our farm had been involved in the breeding of dairy cows for decades … When Bruno and Alfio thought of replacing them, it was necessary for them to think of an animal that could well adapt to spaces and routines designed for dairy cows. The choice was also completely pioneering; before Quattro Portoni no one had ever thought of transforming the milk of Italian Mediterranean buffalo into aged and semi-aged products.”
The creamery now produces twelve original cheeses—all made exclusively with buffalo milk—including Quattro Portoni’s signature, Blu di Bufala. This distinctive, raw-milk cheese has twice been named the Best Italian Cheese at the World Cheese Awards and has also won Gold and Silver medals at Mondial du Fromage. Underneath the thin, striated rind, the butter-colored paste is a heady blend of cream and earth, with a punch of spice from the blue veining.