Wild Buffalo and West Cork – a Perfect Pairing!
At the sound of Johnny Lynch’s soft West Cork lilt, the sleepy herd of Italian Buffalo lift their heads, clamber to their feet and wander over to the fence to inspect the latest group of visitors. Naturally curious, they poke their heads towards us, their black shiny noses and curved horns not in the least threatening.
It’s a typical autumnal day – blustery showers and sunshine – and I am at Macroom Buffalo Farm in west Cork, with 60 welly clad tourists and locals who have signed up for today’s “Roaming with the Buffalo” tour with Dorothy O’Tuama of Lee Valley Taste Trails. Today’s group is the largest that Dorothy has taken on in this, her first, year of offering artisan food-based guided tours around the Lee Valley. It’s a testament to the popularity of the tour, and of Dorothy herself, an instantly likeable native of nearby Inchigeelagh. In fact, the tours are proving so popular that she has had to split the group into two separate tours today for the first time. It’s the week of the Taste of West Cork Festival and this tour features on the programme. The recent ad by Aldi, one of the farm’s main customers, filmed on the farm and featuring Johnny riding one of the Buffalo (since named Black Beauty) has also had an impact. Other tours offered by Dorothy include a trip to see the Macroom Oatmeal factory, the White Deer Craft Brewery, as well as a variety of heritage and artisan craft locations around the Lee Valley area.
Before heading out to visit the buffalo, Dorothy gives us some background to the animals and the farm itself, the only dairy buffalo farm in Ireland. Farmer Johnny Lynch has been rearing buffalo and producing award-winning Irish mozzarella since 2009. Wild buffalo in west Cork might seem an unusual pairing, but the mild climate here suits the animals down to the ground. They don’t like heat, but they don’t like cold either, and they love to wallow in mud. Combined with the rich Toon Valley pasture, west Cork is paradise to this contented herd – 270 in all – which is reflected in the quality of their milk. The farm regularly hosts visits by Agricultural students from around the world, and Johnny is now a regular adviser to buffalo farmers in the UK and elsewhere.
After meeting the outdoor herd, we head inside to the pristine parlour, where we meet a couple of calves with their surrogate mother who very politely pose for photographs, while the older animals amuse us as they queue up for their turn at the scratching post. Visitors in the coming weeks will have the pleasure of meeting the new born calves that are due any day now. Then it’s on to the dairy to see the cheeses being made – beautiful creamy mozzarella, and ricotta, a by-product of the mozzarella process. All the while Dorothy imparts her wealth of knowledge about the farm, the animals, the cheese making process and the characters who work on the farm – apparently Sean Ferry the cheesemaker’s insomnia is quite a bonus to production!
Reminding us that we are, after all, on a Taste Trail, Dorothy produces trays of colourful basil, cherry tomato and miniature mozzarella balls, (a nod to the Italian flag) and Sheridan’s oatmeal biscuits topped with her own recipe of ricotta, cream and raspberries. There’s a flurry of activity around the rustic wooden table and just like that, all the trays are empty. “Mmm, just like mozzarella at!” declares one happy Italian tourist. Everyone else is too busy eating to comment. Enough said.
Lee Valley Taste Trails is run by Dorothy O’Tuama and offers a variety of family friendly tours around artisan producers and heritage sights in the Lee Valley region. For more information see www.leevalleytastetrails.ie , find them on Facebook or call Dorothy on 086 8539744
Dorothy’s Mini Buffalo Cheesecakes (no measuring required!):
- Stir together crushed oatmeal biscuits, a handful of hazelnuts, chocolate chips and melted butter and tip inside a large scone cutter, to make a base for the mini cheesecake.
- Mix some whipped cream into a bowl of fresh Macroom ricotta, add some fresh raspberries, a teaspoon of honey and a teaspoon of icing sugar (you can also add some of your favourite liqueur if you like) and spoon the mixture on top of the biscuit base
- Add some homemade blackberry jam on top to finish and decorate with a sprig of lemon verbena and, as Dorothy can confirm, voilá – your guests will love you!