Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Buffalo" Your Dreams (On the California Cheese Trail: Ramini Mozzarella)

Meet Craig Ramini, water buffalo rancher and cheesemaker. You probably could not have guessed that Craig was an ex-Silicon Valley employee. Or perhaps the black turtleneck is a dead giveaway, I don’t know. He traded his days at the grind for what some people think would be the excruciatingly slow lane reserved for the grandmas of the world.  Ramini Mozzarella is a byproduct of soul-searching when that most coveted Silicon Valley career was no longer enough. 

Pared down to a simpler life where a day in the office is twelve hours of just the water buffalos and not much else is where you'd find Craig nowadays.  It makes you start to ponder on what it means to live a life of passion, free from the snares of cubicle life, and start a mental prosecution if you yourself are living your own dreams.  Those two lives – past and present – must be so different.  But when a perfect romantic evening with your wife is rendered to kneading mozzarella cheese balls by hand, accompanying wine and music present, of course, I am rooting for the present.   

It’s a terrifying and threatening idea, especially since when Craig quit Silicon Valley, he had no clue what he would do next, much less how to make buffalo mozzarella.  But perhaps the proverbial lesson to be learned from a farmer, any farmer, is that if you want it enough, you can make it happen.  Yes, the first batches were so terrible they ended up at the hog farm next door (lucky pigs).  But eventually, with perseverance and acquired skill, a far-out idea translates to net income in the balance sheet, despite the fact that he only supplies to a handful of local chefs.   

Outside, under a massive tree, Craig slices up pristine white mozzarella balls and the sight of the shiny, supple white cheese triggers my saliva glands instantly.  The buffalos are resting a few feet away and after Craig serves up our cheese, he serves the buffalos their lunch next.  It was the perfect triangulation of source, farmer, and food, and how the symbiosis of the former two involves so much apparent affection.  And as I sank my teeth into these perfect supple buffalo mozzarella slices, I too, am roped into that tight circle.      


1  Milk water buffalos.  (Trivia: Craig had buffalo sperm shipped all the way from Italy to breed good Italian animals).  The animals are brought in to these stalls and they stand behind a gate, one buffalo in front of the other, in keeping with their natural instincts to form queues.  When the animal is settled, a calf is brought in to stand next to the mum as this triggers production of happy hormone, oxytocin. 
The Milking Station.  The buffalo's window view (bottom left)
2  Tubes are attached to the udders and are pumped via a vacuum.  It takes about 10-12 minutes to milk a water buffalo.
3  A bucket catches the milk and is hand carried into the cheesemaking room and poured into a huge vat.
4  Milk is pasteurized in a big vat, heated to a certain temperature to kill the bad bacteria. 

5  A different type of special culture/bacteria is added to make the cheese. Craig imports the ones he uses from Italy.
6  Eventually, curd coagulates at the bottom. Whey rises to the top.  
7  A special tool is used to cut the curds.  What’s settled at the bottom is what is rolled into individual mozzarella cheese balls. 
Ramini Mozzarella is located at 175 Gericke Road, Tomales, CA.  Tour with tasting is $20 per person.  To arrange one, contact Craig Ramini at

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