I have a theory about traveling: There are journeys and there are destinations. I was reminded of this distinction on a recent road trip to Nova Scotia. Lunenburg, a fishing port town south of Halifax and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was our destination.
During our stay, we kept hearing about this young couple raising water buffalo and making buffalo mozzarella. Waitresses, shopkeepers, and baristas each added a slice of information, all trying to convince us to find these adventurous souls.
We found them: Desiree Gordon and Stefan Kirkpatrick, who are building a micro-empire around buffalo milk on a caseificio (dairy farm) called West Dublin Buffalo Dairy.
When the two decided to start a farm, they encountered more obvious choices than water buffalo. As they investigated, each option had drawbacks. Cow’s milk pricing is controlled by state-run bureaucracy in Canada. They found goats too smelly and that sheep bred too quickly for a small farm, so they ended up at water buffalo.
Like most new endeavors, a thousand steps led them to the day when their first water buffalo arrived—including visits to a large water buffalo farm in Ontario and a trip to Paestum, Italy to visit the fonte di conoscenza (fountain of knowledge) for a large dose of inspiration and “the best meal of [their] lives”.
Stefan is the partner who keeps things moving, delivering baked goods and cheeses to restaurants, farmer’s markets, and shops, and driving between the farm and the couple’s general store, Ploughman’s Lunch. The store had stood empty for more than 50 years, but it is now a gathering spot, corner store, ice cream shop, and cafe. He is also responsible for caring for the farm’s massive beasts.
Desi is “the creative genius behind all of this,” Stefan says with pride, waving his hand towards stacks of beautiful baked goods. Desi is the baker and cheese maker of the family. She works her magic in a small standalone kitchen off their driveway.
They studied everything they could find, worked with a consultant by Skype, and attempted many trials. Water buffalo produce significantly less milk than cows and can hold back releasing it, so a certain amount of love and caressing is required.
In addition to mozzarella, West Dublin Buffalo Dairy also makes ice cream, yogurt, and ricotta. Buffalo milk is the perfect fit for rich treats: higher in protein, fat, and calcium than cow’s milk, but with less cholesterol. In the summertime, they announce their cheese and ice cream making schedule on Facebook—local traffic jams happen when there is fresh buffalo mozzarella to be had, especially when tomatoes are in season.
Alas, it’s a delight that’s limited to Lunenburg. “The thing that I like about the bakery business and the mozzarella business is that the product is best the day it’s produced,” says Desi, “That really limits the distance our products can travel.” For cheese chasers, it’s a destination.