The Toonsbridge Dairy began production in 2011, but was the culmination of a two year adventure between Real Olive founder, Toby Simmonds, and his neighbouring farmer Johnny Lynch. The idea was conceived late on a St Patrick's evening back in 2009, when it was discussed whether Johnny's cow milk could be made in to a product for the Real Olive Company. The following day, Johnny was shown a Youtube video of water buffalo in England, and the question was popped! Within a week the two went over to England, and shook hands on the venture.
The following months saw many trips to Italy, where they sourced from the Prince of Lombardia, thirty one top pedigree young buffalo. These arrived into the farm in September 2009. They then set about learning how to make Buffalo Mozzarella, the famous Italian fresh cheese. This involved numerous trips to Naples and the surrounding area. There was also a cheese room to be built, and fitted with equipment that could only be bought in Southern Italy.
In October of 2010, Johnny and Toby did a two week stint making mozzarella by night in a traditional “casifeicio” in Capua, a small town to the North of Naples. This was in the heart of the traditional buffalo area, and had been swamp land until Mussolini drained it.
Here they learnt to make with traditional methods, raw milk mozzarella and ricotta. Much of the process of forming the balls was by hand and involved handling molten curd at over 75 degrees celsius.
THE FIRST BUFFALO CALVES ARRIVED IN THE EARLY SPRING OF 2011.
The first buffalo calves arrived in the early spring of 2011, and the precious milk was carried over in churns to the new dairy, which is ironically a former creamery building. The first attempts to recreate mozzarella failed miserably, and after two months, and much hair turning grey, they called in help. A dairy technologist from Italy, who had worked on diverse projects such as parmigiano, and making buffalo mozzarella in Indonesia arrived. They also enlisted a local cheese maker, Sean Ferry who had made the famous Gabriel and Desmond cheeses for most of his working life. Within three days of the real cheese makers entering the scene they had made passable mozzarella.
MUCH OF THE PROCESS OF FORMING THE BALLS WAS BY HAND AND INVOLVED HANDLING MOLTEN CURD AT OVER 75 DEGREES CELSIUS
In September of 2013, Franco Picciuolo, the head cheesemaker from Capua came over for a week and transformed the mozzarella. By tweaking a few small parts of the recipe,the mozzarella became the equal, if not better than the Italian cheese that we had tried to copy. The grass fed buffalo milk certainly giving a superior flavour to the silage based, barn fed buffaloes of Southern Italy.
Franco returned this spring and is here for a year, in which time we hope to up the standard considerably again. Franco has serious pedigree as he is the fourth generation of buffalo mozzarella cheesemaker and has a wealth of knowledge and experience.
We are also developing several other buffalo milk based cheeses, including haloumi, ricotta salata, buffalo blue cheese, scamorza, cacio cavallo and a greek style brined cheese.
The video of Laverstoke Park that inspired us: