The dairy aisle, where the buffalo roam

Water-buffalo milk finally gets its due in Canada with luxurious local cheeses, yogourts and more


Margaret Mulligan

For some years now, water-buffalo cheeses have been a feature on hip restaurant menus, and top sellers at better cheese shops. The milk, with a mild flavour, high fat content and rich consistency, is the ultimate for making silky ricotta and balls of fresh mozzarella. But mention buffalo milk to most Canadians, and they curl their lips. “People can be really squeamish,” says Alberta farmstead cheesemaker James Meservy of Old West Ranch near Calgary. “But buffalo milk is far less different from cow’s milk than you would expect.”

While most of Asia and Europe have valued water-buffalo milk as a high-protein food for centuries, in Canada, it has remained a novelty limited to Italian cheese imports. Lately, though, a growing number of Canadian farmers and producers are challenging our prejudices with a range of tempting cheeses, silken ice creams and thick yogourts.

Edmonton chef Larry Stuart gets his buffalo mozzarella from International Cheese in Toronto, and serves it with fennel marmalade and bacon crostini at his recently opened mozzarella bar at Tavern 1903. “Buffalo milk has a beautiful flavour and texture,” he says. “People are amazed when they try it.” But without a Canadian source, he’s not certain he could offer it. “It took me five years just to find a good, consistent supply.”

“The sky’s the limit, really,” comments Vancouver Island farmer Anthea Archer. Anthea and her husband, Darrel, imported the country’s first river-water buffalo in 2000 and, against the odds, pioneered the small industry. The Archers raise and sell animals to Canadian farmers and supply B.C.’s Natural Pastures for its popular limited-edition cheeses. Never mind that the original herd they brought from the Netherlands was ordered slaughtered by the Canadian government in the midst of the BSE crisis of 2002; their enterprise has survived. A number of new farms have since appeared, from tiny biodynamic Sunnivue Farm, one of a half-dozen to crop up in Ontario in as many years, to major supplier On the Hoof in Quebec.

Demand for the cheeses is on the rise, especially for the mozzarella, styled after the high-end Italian cheese mozzarella di bufala. “When we started out, we were just depending on the people who had travelled to Italy or were really into the foodie movement,” says Natural Pastures co-owner Doug Smith. “But more people are trying it as they hear about it.”

Anchoring a classic Caprese salad or served with salted anchovies, lemon and arugula, bufala is the crown jewel of buffalo cheeses. Part of what makes bufala delicious is the freshness. It’s best eaten within a day of being made—with time, it goes from creamy to rubbery. Now local supplies of the cheese are solving the problem of stale Italian imports, which are often sold weeks after being made.

At a family-owned facility in Vaughan, Ont., Quality Cheese’s Albert Borgo and his crew produce the Bella Casara brand for stocking on supermarket shelves. “We’re the largest in Canada for buffalo ricotta,” he says—adding that, for now, it’s a “tiny niche.”

Exceptionally rich, water-buffalo milk is nearly 60 per cent higher in calcium than cow’s milk, and 40 per cent higher in protein. Although lower in cholesterol, it can have twice the fat. Little wonder that, once opened, that tub of maple-flavoured, super-creamy ice cream made by H.O.P.E. Cooperative in Ontario won’t last. Monforte Dairy turns out equally tasty goods such as Camembert-style rounds and a creamy beauty studded with pink peppercorns. Even Canada’s biggest dairy processor, Saputo, is dipping into the trend with a few cheeses.

Buffalo offer another kind of opportunity. “They saved the farm,” says Meservy. The former Alberta cattle rancher milks a herd of a dozen water buffalo and sells his fresh mozzarella to Calgary restaurants like the River Café. The animals offered him an alternative to beef farming, which was collapsing after the BSE crisis, and to the notoriously expensive cow’s milk industry, controlled through a quota system. Twice, he has had to shut down operations, but he’s certain that water buffalo has a future. “I don’t see why it can’t dominate the milk industries,” he says. Given its popularity elsewhere, why not indeed?

Filed under:

The dairy aisle, where the buffalo roam

  1. Adult humans do not need buffalo’s milk any more than they need cow’s milk, goat’s milk, wolf’s milk, camel’s milk, giraffe’s milk. Unweaned infants do remarkably better on their own mother’s breast milk which is what our species was intended to consume. There’s absolutely nothing beneficial to the human diet in cow’s milk that can’t be gotten through plant based sources.

    Female cows are forcibly artificially inseminated to become pregnant and continue lactating. After 9 months, the dairy industry steals these baby calves shortly after they are born. The “worthless” males who can’t make milk are either killed immediately or kept in isolation for a few months to become veal. The unfortunate females calves follow their mother’s sad lot all the way to the last moments on the kill floor when they are no longer “productive”.

    Thankfully there’s abundant plant based alternatives that are just as nutritional, just as satisfying and just as versatile in cooking. Some even have twice the amount of calcium and vitamin D as cow’s milk does.

    Dairy, like all animal-sourced foods, is also destructive to the environment and a tragic waste of resources. Perhaps it is time for “unweaned” adults to look beyond what deceptiveness and hype the dairy industry is pitching at you in order to keep their profits and their cruel practices in check.

    • I find it sad to be bullied from you into your believes. I enjoy Dairy and cheese very much and find the propaganda changes whenever one sector needs to push a product . Your senseless rant looks like a farce. Why don’t you save your energy and concentrate on the methods of the pharmaceutical industry and how they supply everybody with their mind altering drugs where we all become sheep. And by the way go work on a farm for a month to see whats really going on. Harper allowing more european Dairy into the canadian market is worth some challenge. A balanced diet with regular exercise is the answer

      • Hello – I don’t know how information or even opinions can be deemed as bullying. Honestly… Since meat and dairy cause so much harm and violence to innocent victims, it seems like those who consume those products are the genuine “bullies”.

        I certainly am opposed to the widespread abuse of pharmaceuticals too – Did you know that more than 70% of those drugs made in the U.S. go to keep animals “healthy” enough till they go to slaughter? If you’re concerned over antibiotic resistance a plant based diet is a great place to start on a solution.

        Finally, my husband comes from a family of generational farmers. I’ve been to enough farms and have gathered enough first hand information to make good decisions about my choices. Meat, dairy and eggs are certainly not necessary to a healthy diet. And they are the worst option regarding the well being of animals. I’m sure if you were one of these chickens, pigs or dairy cows, you’d want someone to speak in your behalf as well. Yes?

    • Your entire comment bothered me, you seem like one of those people who go on rants about the evils of consuming animal products but never actually have any references to go with it.
      However, i will just comment on your one statement about these “worthless” males who are killed immediately or kept for veal. If this is true and no males are allowed to sexually mature, how do we keep getting more cattle being born? Also, it is mostly males that are used in meat production.
      You sound ignorant and uneducated.

      • I’m sorry if I didn’t supply you with references. Will these specifically regarding “dairy” do?

        As far as the dairy industry killing off all the males – Well… They may keep a very small percentage – For breeding. But of course you know that no female cow actually “mates” with a bull – Right? It’s all AI “artificial insemination”. So one bull can be “milked” for his sperm and this supplies hundreds of cows. Very few male “dairy” calves ever get to live long enough to be “useful” in this capacity either.

        As far as dairy cows being used for meat – Their physical limitations aren’t worth “fattening” them. They aren’t “meat cattle”. They don’t have the fat, marbling or weight that the meat industry finds profitable. You won’t get an expensive “steak” from a dairy cow… Just cheap burger meat or “pet” food.

        All you have to do is cruise the internet for a while and there’s much you can educate yourself about. Of course you have to look for truth. The meat, dairy and egg industries sure aren’t going to parade their ugly practices in front of consumers. Here’s a great place to start in learning truth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=es6U00LMmC4

        • When i say references, i mean actual validated unbiased references. sorry, i guess we dont have the same understanding of what that is.

          Of couse i know about AI (which they do in humans as well but you don’t see people complaining about how unnatural that is), and its pretty efficient in my eyes.

          umm, there is no such thing as a male dairy animals, dairy animals supply dairy.. so milk. Bulls (cattle that are male) don’t provide milk, so i have no clue what you are talking about.

          I never said dairy animals are used for meat, cause they are dairy animal, they are bred to provide milk and when they are not productive/at the end of their lives, yes they are sent for slaughter. i’m sure there is a wiki page that gives you this general info.

          I don’t think alot of people out their want the truth, they choose to look at videos and animal welfare websites and pictures and take that as the gospel. Of course there are animals out there being treated badly, but why should a few bad producers taint they entire industry. Some humans are evil and kill other people, does that mean all humans are murdering evil beings?

          How about you actually put some real research into this.

          • What specifically do you want references/sources for. Please be exact and I’d be happy to help you.

            Humans may use “artificial” means to become pregnant. That’s because they want a child. If they didn’t want a child and the female was forced – We call that rape. Furthermore, in the instance of these cows… They don’t even get to keep their babies. So your analogy doesn’t work there either.

            Male dairy animals are the offspring of dairy cows. Here is the latest from an investigation showing “Quanah, which handles bull dairy calves” being rough-handled: http://www.examiner.com/article/investigator-charged-with-animal-cruelty-for-exposing-quanah-dairy-calf-abuse Indeed the dairy industry calls them “bull calves”.

            And certainly these calves have no “productive” years at all… They don’t live too long because of it. Even the mother cows are killed at a fraction of their life expectancy. The whole concept is “bad” not just a “few bad producers”.

            BTW – You do know that humans don’t need cow’s milk right? That it actually does more harm to the human body than good. Right? So what sort of justification could you possibly present to validate your position? If we don’t “need” cheese, milk, cream, butter (meat or eggs) – Why put these animals through this ordeal at all?

            People who turn a blind eye to the suffering of others are wrong for doing so. There are plenty of humans who opt out of that practice… Even in regards to their fellow Earthlings. No… All humans are not evil – Just some who refuse to extend justice and compassion to victims even after they know the facts. Fact is meat, dairy and eggs are not necessary for humans to consume. We can thrive on plant based alternatives. Ball is in your court.

          • If you are going to make statements like humans don’t need cow’s milk and that the dairy industry destroys the environment, it would be great for you to provide peer
            reviewed scientific articles not youtube videos or popular press articles. For example, a study showing that consuming plant derived milk produced provides the same effects and benefits as that of cows milk.

            I made the connection to humans and AI because i assumed you were saying that AI is an unnatural breeding method. Also, you seem to have never heard of cow-calf operations, the dont keep the calves forever but they are not taken away

            Just because a popular press article uses that term does not mean it is correct, saying bull calves is the proper term, bull dairy calves is not, again, a dairy animal is one that produces milk, bulls cant because they are male.

            Again, you say that the calves have no productive years, in the eyes of the industry they do, unless you are talking about veal production which is a whole different argument.

            What exactly is your solution, stop using these animals in food production? Do you actually ever see that happening? If animal production industry ceases to exist, what do you see happening to the millions of animals in it now? Do you
            think farmers and producers are going to feed, house and continue to spend money on their herd of animals with no benefit from them?

            This is no new argument, people with our varying opinions have been arguing about this for years, you won’t change my mind, I won’t change yours

          • If humans “needed” cow’s milk then more than half the world would be dead for the lack of it. Indeed I would be dead as well as a million other U.S. resident vegans. So the evidence is clear that the human body does fine without cow’s milk. But if you want a peer reviewed study I suggest the works of Dr. T. Colin Campbell who wrote The China Study. A 20 year investigation of the Asian population and the health benefits they maintained eating a diet void of cow’s/goat’s milk.

            Even the American Dietetic Association strongly recommends human breast milk for infants: http://andevidencelibrary.com/files/Docs/200911%20Promoting%20Breastfeeding%20JADA.pdf What on earth would make you think cow’s milk is good for weaned adults???

            Environmental damage: How about the World Wildlife Organization? http://worldwildlife.org/industries/dairy —- OR you could use your own intelligence to figure it out. There are 250 million bovines who are ruminant creatures – Meaning they have intense flatulation and pass gas constantly. That’s methane… Add to that their feces – They poop 20 times more than any human. All this is “collected” in manure “lagoons”. This intense ammonia concentrated, toxic fluid leeches into ground water and contaminates soil, lakes and rivers. “The methane cows emit remains in the atmosphere 21-23 times more effectively than CO2.” http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/aug/07/milk-environmental-impact BTW – neither of these two sources even suggest eliminating dairy from one’s diet, so it isn’t “biased”.

            Bull calves or dairy bull calves – It’s all semantics. Point is these babies are a product of the dairy industry. It doesn’t matter what they are called – They are essentially “worthless” to any industry making “milk”. Here’s a great example – A livestock auction in my town has male dairy calves for sale… They go for anywhere between $5 – $20 dollars. Who wants to feed/fatten a male dairy cow – His flesh is NOT what consumers value as “beef”. I assure you ranchers do not jump with glee when their artificially inseminated milk cow gives birth to a boy!

            What do you think happens to the male chicks in a hatchery?

            The animal industries won’t disappear over night. There’s no fear of “starving” cows, pigs or chickens… And they will not “take over the world” either. What will and is happening is there’s a gradual shift from animal based foods to plant based foods. As this happens there’s less “demand” for these products and ranchers depend more on (ignorant) foreign markets to sell their products to. Meat, dairy and egg consumption is down in all advanced nations. Folks are catching on that this isn’t the best way to eat. As this happens throughout the world, less animals will be “bred” into existence. And the ones that exist now will go to their tragic fate till there are no more “replacements”. It’s a simple matter of economics and cultural change. It’s inevitable.

            “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. ” Albert Einstein

Sign in to comment.