The Toons Bridge 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 Johnny’s farm in September 2009. Then there was the issue of 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, Toby worked for two weeks 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 mozzarella area, and had been swamp land until Mussolini drained it.
Here Toby learnt to make with traditional methods, raw milk mozzarella and ricotta from fourth generation buffalo mozzarella maker Franco Picciuolo. 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, help was called in. A dairy technologist from Italy, who had worked on diverse projects such as parmigiano, and making buffalo mozzarella in Indonesia arrived, as well as local cheese maker, Sean Ferry. 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 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.
Franco returned in the spring of 2014 for a permanent position and set about further developing the recipes and techniques. He also developed several other buffalo cheeses such as caciocavallo, scamorza, ricotta salata and stracchino and has a wealth of knowledge and experience.
In early 2015, the farmer Johnny Lynch decided that he wanted to set up a dairy on his own farm and also make buffalo mozzarella, thus removing the supply of Irish buffalo milk. We have temporarily replaced this with DOP Italian buffalo milk until we establish our own herd. We would expect this to be this year and milking next summer.
We have also taken advantage of the end of the milk quota and have diversified into a range of local cows milk products including “fior di latte” which is a fantastic version of cows milk mozzarella. We will also revisit other cheeses such as haloumi and Toons Bridge Blue.
The video of Laverstoke Park that inspired us: