Water buffaloes were accidentally introduced into the region south of Salerno sometime around the 9th c. C.E. from Asia by Turkish pirates. How buffaloes got on pirate ships nobody seems to know. They soon naturalized, becoming somewhat wild, living in the marshes formed by the Sele River near Paestum. Soon locals had redomesticated them and started making cheese from their milk.
We know it as Buffalo Mozzarella. Today we took the train an hour south of Napoli to watch it being made at the Barlotti Buffalo Farm. Starting at four in the morning the buffalo milk from the day before is mixed with a curdling agent, shredded, mixed with hot water and stirred to a thick cream. Most of the water is then removed by hand in a large vat using a large bowl with a handle in a particular stirring motion.
The resulting fresh cheese is then stirred more and squeezed in the characteristic balls we’re familiar with.
The squeezer is a machine although they still squeeze some by hand. One fellow deftly twisted a piece into a braid.
The cheese is ready to eat by 11 the same morning. Now that’s fresh! And the taste is amazing.
Oh, did I forget to mention that Paestum also has three of the best preserved Greek temples anywhere? After visiting the buffalo farm we spent the afternoon with Silvia Braggio, guide and expert on the ancient history of southern Italy.
From her we learned that the Greeks colonized much of this part of Italy from the 6th until the 3rd centuries B.C.E. The temples and accompanying museum are incredible. The best preserved temple, dedicated to the goddess Hera and dating from around 450 B.C.E., is in better shape than the Parthenon in Athens.
This temple has not been restored. Unlike most architecture from this time it is entirely original.
One of the highlights of the museum is a rare example of Greek painting from a box tomb. The inside of the top depicts a man diving over some pillars into a body of water. Archeologists believe this was a metaphor for the journey into the after life. The pillars represent the pillars of Heracles (the Straits of Gibraltar), believed to be the end of the world. The water represents the unknown world to come.
Something we often fail realize is that Greek temples and statuary were painted to an extent that might seem garish to us. Red, white and black were the most common colors. This is a piece of the frieze from one of the temples with the original paint intact.
The area around Paestum is pastoral, quiet and tranquil – a great break after Napoli and Pompeii. Following a train ride back to reality we dined on pizza and beer on our balcony overlooking Sorrento and the Bay of Naples. It was a good day.