Plane Rides & Roses & Buffalo Cheeses

Deca & Otto mozzarella cheese

The specialty cheese market traditionally included high-quality cheeses from Europe. But the last 20 years have seen a surge in cheese makers here in the US and south of the border: great South American cheesemakers like Deca & Otto are getting into the small-batch cheese scene in big ways.

I fell in love with this Colombian dairy and their products. Water buffalo milk has lower cholesterol, no lactose, more protein and a great, rich creamy flavor that adds an additional amount of character to the fresh cheeses and yogurt they produce. But there is so much more to discover.

Deca & Otto cheese in making

I will be honest: I anticipated a modest family farm. But a drive through bumpy dirt roads and small villages brought us to a breathtaking home I could not have imagined: a sprawling Spanish colonial, with living space flowing to the outdoors. At its center, a sparkling swimming pool. In the background is grassland, where week-old water buffalo calves tag along with their mothers through the tall grasses. As day settles into evening, our hosts bring out a Spanish red wine. We drink in the sights and sounds of the farm along with the wine.

Up at 5:30 a.m., we’re ready to get our hands dirty. One of the largest water buffalo farms in the country, Deca & Otto boasts multiple milking parlors and storage rooms. I admired the skill and confidence with which the ranch hands rounded up the animals to be cleaned before milking. Although they are gentle souls, buffalo are a little timid. I was able to pet them, but I was not sure they liked it.

The global supply chain network is a beautiful creation, bringing roses from Colombia via refrigerated planes into US ports every day. Colombian water buffalo cheeses find it easy to hitch a ride. Cheeses and roses; my favorite things!

Affordable, delicious water buffalo cheeses – fresh from the farm – are delivered directly to retailers to satisfy savvy consumers who drop buffalo mozzarella into their shopping carts, right alongside those roses. The supply chain network gave savvy companies like ANCO an opportunity, too: a partnership with Deca & Otto, a unique Colombian vendor who has the potential to grow a profitable US business.

Members of the Deca & Otto team

They asked me to visit the farm in Colombia. How could I refuse? My bags were packed in a Nano-second and I was off on my first trip to Colombia!

This magical place has more birds than any other country. Twice named the “happiest country in the world,” Colombia is nestled into the Andes Mountains and shares both Caribbean and Pacific coasts. A four-hour flight from Atlanta, and our feet were on the ground in Bogota.

We spent our first day with the cheese making team, who were making burrata by hand. I gained confidence in the brand, the plant, and their safety practices. We were treated to a plate of local toast, garlicy crushed tomatoes and smothered burrata. Local buffalo farmer Alejandro Garcés joined us and shared his knowledge of the breeds, the lineage and the history of water buffalo in Colombia. Then we headed to the finca.

The herd of water buffalo on the farm in Columbia

Close to my heart is the fact that their buffalo roam free on the farm, and graze in Columbia’s perfect climate. I was happy to learn that baby buffalos always get their milk first. And when it’s milking time, it’s not done by a machine, but by hand – thankfully not my hands.

When invited to hand-milk a water buffalo, I found it is more difficult than it looks. I apologized to the water buffalo, who began losing patience with my lack of skill – even after multiple demonstrations. One last try, and voila! Milk. Milking by hand deserves serious respect.

The most compelling quality I witnessed while there was how Deca & Otto maintain the highest ethical and operational standards. I saw firsthand that dairy farmers can be ecologically responsible and still make a profit. Their production and pasteurization processes are 100 percent environmentally friendly – and their animals are treated with love and respect. I believe we can create a demand for this brand, and their products, based on the values they exhibit in every part of their production process.

The current Deca & Otto product line includes: Buffalo Mozzarella (Mozzarella di Bufala), Burrata, Dulce de Leche, Mozzarella Crème and Greek Yogurt. Their yogurt won third place at the ACS competition this year.

By Hannah Thompson
Hannah Thompson, ACS CCP, Authorized Educator (TM), Client Services. Hannah resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her chef husband and two dogs.









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