La Latteria d’Ischia: Water Buffalo Dairy Company Out To Make A Change

January 25, 2017

Though not often attributed to the continent, dairy is well-loved in Asia, and the demand for top-quality is only increasing with globalization as well as the growing population of foreigners and locals who’ve travelled overseas. But look around and you’ll notice: the local dairy industry is poorly developed, and most dairy products across the continent hails from abroad.

“Part of it is because they were previously colonial countries,” explains explains Marshall Mays of La Latteria d’Ischia. “As soon as the war ended they got dominated by the big dairy country companies.” Countries like Holland, the US, and England managed to instill a taste for dairy in the Asian countries’ local economies. Even upon leaving, they continued to import and sell mass-market dairy products at cheap prices that made it difficult for local operators to keep up. To this day, most milk is supplied by foreign, large-estate farms—which translates to less jobs for farmers in the local countryside.

“But why import when you can get it from your own neighbor?” asks Mays. “You can get fresh, authentic, artisanal products made from local animals.”

Each cheese has its own distinctive character.

By this Mays refers to the water buffalo native to Asia. Buffalo milk has traditionally been used in Italy to make a number of cheeses, the most well-known being mozzarella di buffala—whose cows’ milk counterpart, called mozzarella fiordilatte, is thought to be inferior in quality. “[Fiordilatte] means the ‘flower of the milk’. It’s a euphemism which politely means bad milk,” Mays explains. “It’s got some texture but no flavor.” Mozzarella di buffala, on the other hand, is much highly preferred.

Raw milk from water buffalo hybrids raised by the Philippine Carabao Center forms the basis of La Latteria’s products. These special hybrids are able to churn out more milk than regular carabaos while maintaining the same level of vigor the carabao is known for. Buffalo milk is favored for its rich makeup: with more milk solids and a higher fat percentage (but less cholesterol!) per volume than cows’ milk, you get cheese that is especially creamy with a natural sweetness and fuller body.

(L-R) Primo Sale | firm, crumbly cheese similar to feta blended with arugula or basil, P200/200g. Marrone di Veneto | semi-soft seasoned cheese with a thin rind and mild, fruity flavor, P320/200g. Bufalino-Paprika | semi-hard seasoned cheese mixed with paprika, P320/200g

With old techniques and modern technology, La Latteria transforms this milk into no less than 12 varieties of cheese with their own distinct flavor and profiles, based on Italian models. This includes fresh cheeses, such as Ricotta and (of course) Mozzarella, both clean and sweet in flavor; aged cheeses, like the spicy Paprika Buffalino, buttery Appia Vecchia and delightfully tangy Marrone di Veneto; and yogurt with a complex tang, thanks to the addition of much more probiotics than its commercialized counterparts.

Quality is the name of the game here, but getting good output goes both ways. “One of the biggest keys is feeding the animal properly and continually,” he says. “If you don’t give the animal a high-protein mixed diet, [it] . . . and will have fewer calves . . . [and] the calves won’t be as healthy.” The animal’s overall well-being is taken into consideration. “If you jerk [it] around and kick [it], [it] won’t give you so much milk.” The process is in many ways symbiotic: they must take care of the buffalo, who in return produces a higher quantity of better-quality milk.

To account for potential differences in the raw milk, La Latteria monitors every step of the cheesemaking process. “My goal as a dairy producer is to produce low variance, [so] we measure and align every single gram of milk that comes from our animals.” This ensures the best quality cheese every single time.

Besides the increase in quality, going local has an ethical advantage as well. “Transport cost goes down, carbon footprint collapses to zero, you create more local jobs and they can buy your products as well,” he explains. “So you have a localized economy that supports itself instead of living off the foreign imports.” The business thus also functions as a social enterprise, which aims to create livelihood for farmers across ASEAN, starting with the Philippines, while catering to the demand for good dairy.

“We are trying to be a change agent,” declares Mays with conviction. “We’re trying to inject effective systems into a fairly static, or shall we say dormant system.” The rural hinterland of the provinces, he says, is sadly at risk. Thanks to industrialization and urbanization, talent and manpower is being pulled out of countryside and pushed into the city. Many communities are then left stranded. “If you don’t do anything about it, [it could lead to] the death of the countryside.”

Though he has been living in Asia for the past 30 years, Mays was born and raised in South Carolina himself, and he relates to the struggle caused by urbanization on a personal level. “I’ve seen that. I had a comfortable middle-class life, but I’d met children who grew up with no running water or electricity. I saw malnutrition, right there.” By providing jobs based on skills that they provide training for, La Latteria hopes to help counterbalance the so-called “rural flight” and empower the humble farmer.

Mays also laments the colonial mentality still adopted by the many Filipinos—one he calls a “colonial hangover”, which he likens to an inferiority complex from our colonial history. “The Philippines is still going through this confidence development stage . . . the average person [still] thinks of foreign [as] being better.” But this should change. “Think of the Philippines as a source of ideas. A source of high-quality products. [It’s a] place to have pride in being excellent.”

Ultimately designed as an export product, La Latteria believes very well in the great potential of local farmers and animals. “We can basically displace a lot of European imports with top quality local products by creating confidence that we can do it. I find plenty of Filipinos with the right attitude, we’re just bringing in the technology with the foreign capital to get started.” He nods. “We’re just trying to be the bit of grit in the oyster that motivates it to produce the pearl.”

La latteria d’ischia

Fresh, artisanal Italian-style cheese and yogurt made with water buffalo milk.

CONTACT: (02) 921-3818
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Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes

Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.

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