Words and photos by Ariel Chew, Pizza photo credits: sxc.hu
Many know Langkawi as a land of legends, duty-free shopping and idyllic beach resorts. But few realise that it is the only place in the country that produces mozzarella cheese from fresh buffalo milk.
That’s right, cheese lovers. You no longer have to have to travel all the way to Italy to enjoy rich and creamy fresh mozzarella. You can have it right here at Buffalo Park Langkawi located just a stone’s throw away from the Langkawi International Airport.
The Melting Goodness of Mozzarella
Mozzarella originated from the southern Italian regions of Sicily and Campania. The word probably originated from the Italian word ‘mozzare’, meaning to cut off, referring to the process of cutting the milk solids after the milk has curdled.
You can eat it with French baguette and tomatoes sprinkled with pepper and salt. Or you can have it as a pizza topping the way Malaysians love it. It transforms the plainest pizza into a yummy gooey and stretchy culinary experience. To put it simply, a pizza is not really a pizza unless it has mozzarella.
To purists, mozzarella is curd cheese made from buffalo milk. Buffalo milk is higher in butterfat content, lower in cholesterol and creamier compared to cow’s milk. Fresh mozzarella is white, soft, moist, and rather bland in taste. It tastes sour if it is no longer fresh. Fior di Latte (cow’s milk mozzarella) is almost as white as buffalo’s milk mozzarella, but it is more rubbery in texture.
Because it has a very short short-life, fresh mozzarella can seldom be found the southern region of Italy where it is made. Even with the advancement of cheese making, refrigeration and transportation technologies, the effort and cost are just too prohibitive to export fresh mozzarella outside Europe. That is, until Buffalo Park Langkawi came about.
High Milk Yielding Bovines
Buffaloes are synonymous to Langkawi. With the advent of modern machinery, they have been released from their role as beasts of burden and field ploughing ‘machines’. But still they thrive on and can be commonly seen grazing in the sprawling green paddy fields of the island, cooling down in muddy watering holes or taking their own sweet time to cross the roads. These animals fetch a princely sum of RM3,000 to RM5,000 each and are highly valued by their owners.
Still, buffalo milk is quite a novelty in the country. The water buffaloes commonly seen in the paddy fields of Malaysia are swamp buffaloes which mainly serve as draft animals and a meat source. They produce only enough milk to feed their young and thus, are unsuitable for milk and cheese production.
Welcome to Langkawi Buffalo Park
Over 45 acres, it houses over 100 buffaloes
Activities offered at the Buffalo Park Langkawi
During hot weather, the buffaloes get a bath to cool them down before pulling the cart
The milking process – the buffalo is fed to keep it occupied
A close-up look at the milking device
River buffaloes (sapi in Malay) of the Murrah breed from India, however, are premier milking buffaloes (high milk yield with top grade quality milk). They are jet black in colour with crescent-shaped horns and have a lifespan of up to 17 years. An adult bull weights 550kg and a cow weights 450kg. Each costs about RM26,000.
Buffalo Park Langkawi imports the Murrah breed from India as well as local river buffaloes cross-bred with other high milk-yielding breeds. Established in 4 January 2007, the RM1.25 million agro-tourism project is a brainchild of the then-Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Sprawling over 45 acres, it currently houses over 100 Murrah and Swamp buffaloes which are primarily used for milk production. Milking is done a week after the cow gives birth and the milking continues for the next 7 months.
The Making of Mozzarella
“Anyone can make their own mozzarella!” says Johari Saad, Liaison Officer of Buffalo Park Langkawi. The steps look simple enough – provided you have fresh buffalo milk and rennet pellets (for the coagulation of milk) on hand.
The fresh buffalo milk is first pasteurised at temperatures between 72 to 90 C and then cooled to 32 C. Rennet enzymes are then added to curdle the milk – 5ml of rennet enzymes is added to every 1 litre of milk. After 45 minutes of being soaked in the enzymes, the curd is cut and allowed to rest for a while in the whey (water that is separated from the curd) so that the acids can break down the calcium and phosphorus molecules to soften the curd. This process causes the cheese to melt when exposed to temperatures above 85 C. Next, the whey is drained from the curd to reduce the water content to below 60%.
Nothing goes to waste for the whey, which is a fantastic form of protein, is then used to make a different type of cheese called Ricotta.
The curd is put into boiling water and then stretched to achieve a stretchy elastic texture before it is moulded by hand into balls shaped into bocconcini, Ciliegine, Nodini, Pizzaiola or Ovaline. The fresh mozzarella balls are then cooled and packed in water for sale.
Cutting the mozzarella into blocks
Since Buffalo Park Langkawi is a cheese production facility, specialised machines are used for milking, pasteurisation and cooling the milk. Apart from that, everything else is manually done.
“We maintain a strict standard of hygiene in our facility,” assures Johari. While no visitors are allowed into the cheese processing section, they can still view the process behind clear glass windows.
According to Johari, a lot of research had gone into the production of halal (kosher) rennet enzymes sourced from the buffaloes at the Buffalo Park. Prior to this discovery, the only halal rennet enzymes were sourced from vegetables and fungus. Unfortunately, these do not produce flavourful cheese compared to animal based enzymes. To date, Buffalo Park Langkawi is the only facility producing kosher animal-based rennet enzymes.
Their Malaysian made creamy, soft and appetising mozzarella certainly speaks for itself.
Valley Farm Dairy Products
Buffalo Park Langkawi produces a range of dairy products under the brand Valley Farm including the signature Fresh Mozzarella 100g (RM12), Ricotta (RM6) – a white, creamy and mild whey cheese used in lasagnas and as bread spread, fresh buffalo milk (RM3), yogurt (RM3), flavoured curd (RM2), ice cream and buffalo meat. The products are sold at the Buffalo Park itself and also distributed to local hotels, resorts and restaurants.
Presenting Malaysia’s one and only authentic fresh mozzarella
Children love the delicious buffalo milk ice-cream!
Valley Farm’s yummy range of buffalo products
The river buffaloes are the main stars at the Buffalo Park. Their docile nature and gentle eyes seem to beckon to the shyest child to pet and feed them. Adventurous visitors can go bareback riding on top of a bull or be pulled by a cart or anok (Traditional cart).
Visitors can also stave their hunger pangs with the dairy products, buffalo steaks and salads at the airy and sunny cafeteria.
Family fun on the bullock cart
Bareback riding on the bull is fun!
The river buffaloes are gentle by nature. Go ahead, feed and pet them!
Enjoy a satisfying meal or snack at the Buffalo Park’s outdoor cafeteria
Buffalo Park Langkawi (Jalan Nyior Chabang, Kampung Nyior Chabang, Mukim Bohor, Tel: +604-966 7226) is located 10 minutes from the Langkawi International Airport and 30 minutes from Kuah town by car.
Opening Hours: 10am – 5pm (daily except Fridays). Entrance fee is RM3 for locals with MyKad and RM5 for foreigners. Additional charges apply for buffalo riding (RM20), cart riding (RM35) and anok riding (RM25). For more information visit http://buffaloparklangkawi.com.