05.06.2020. Best of the Coast
With online commerce now many people’s favourite form of shopping, it’s easy to believe that in today’s world, pretty much any product is just a click away.
There are some things, however, that you still have to travel for. Like the one-of-a-kind Gucci products designed by Alessandro Michele and sold exclusively at Gucci Garden in Florence. Or like many of the items in Carla Sersale’s Le Sirenuse Positano men’s collection. While the swimming trunks, tees and colourful Hawaiian shirts (like those designed by the multi-talented Pierre Marie) are available at the Emporio Sirenuse online store, the only way to acquire Le Sirenuse Positano men’s jackets, trousers, shirts and cashmere sweaters is to travel to Positano and head into the physical Emporio store, which stands right across the street from the hotel.
But mozzarella? Mozzarella? Surely nobody in their right minds would get in their car and make a three-hour round journey just to buy some mozzarella, even if it is the most prized variety, mozzarella di bufala?
Yet that’s exactly what Neapolitan clients of Vannulo are prepared to do. Sure, Campania’s most famous cheese artisan has customers closer to home – the city of Salerno, for example, is a mere 45 minutes away. But there are plenty of conoisseurs from further afield, too, who know that if you want Vannulo’s mozzarella di bufala, you have to go get it. The company’s “no deliveries” rule applies to restaurants and hotels too. Vannulo makes no exceptions, and in order to discourage clandestine reselling, they limit the amount of mozzarella one family group is allowed to buy to five kilos (that may sound like a lot, but for true mozzarella aficionados, it’s barely enough to keep family and friends going for an evening).
If you’re still struggling to equate the passions inspired by a lump of cheese with those aroused by a designer handbag, listen to Gennaro Russo, executive chef of Le Sirenuse, who was born and grew up in the shadow of Vesuvius and knows a thing or two about mozzarella. “Mozzarella seems like a simple product, but it’s actually really complicated”, he explains, adding that “for me, the master cheesemakers of Campania are real artists”.
“Vannulo is a reference point for Campanian mozzarella di bufala”, Russo asserts – and from personal experience, we can confirm that the farm’s mozzarella is indeed delicious – juicy, firm, with that acidic, lactic tang that makes this cheese such a great partner to tomatoes. But we’re not getting into the “who makes the best mozzarella di bufala?” argument here: float that one among friends in Naples and you’ll still be there at three in the morning. First, a debate will rage between supporters of the more northerly Caserta production area and fans of the southern zone, south of Salerno, near the archaeological site of Paestum, where Vannulo and other producers cluster. Then, once these battle lines have been drawn, the rival armies will start fighting amongst themselves over which of their chosen area’s many farms makes the best white blobs.
There’s another reason to like Vannulo, however. As Gennaro Russo points out, “it’s not just about the quality of the product, you also have to consider the quality of life of the cattle”. Visit the farm any day between 7am and 9am and you will hear music by Mozart wafting from the loudpeakers in the stables. It’s not there for the staff, though they’re welcome to listen; these symphonies, sonatas and concertos are designed to relax the two hundred and fifty Mediterranean Italian buffalos (a breed officially recognised under Italian law since 2000) that provide the milk from which the firm’s mozzarella di bufala is made, but also its ricotta, scamorza, butter, yoghurt, chocolate and other products.
Vannulo’s chairman, Antonio Palmieri, is convinced that “happy buffaloes make good milk”, and the piped Mozart is just one of the measures put in place on the farm to achieve that aim. Another are the massage machines – they look rather like huge, soft revolving pineapples – that the cattle queue up to be rubbed and pummelled by. As for the milking, that’s performed by four Swedish machines, with the buffaloes themselves deciding when it’s time to be milked (though it should be said that as they have to pass through the milking machine corridor from the large pen where they rest, sleep, get massages and listen to Mozart to the feed station where they eat, there is an incentive). Palmieri insists that these machines, with their soft touch and precise sensors (the buffaloes are weighed as they go in, so the machine knows exactly how much milk each has to express) are there for the good of the cattle: “I remember the era of hand milking well, and although it’s more traditional, I can assure you it stresses the animals more”.
With its new restaurant (for lunch and tasting sessions), chocolate boutique and leather accessories emporium, Vannulo, which is open daily except Monday from 7am to 7pm, has become an essential stopover for many of those who make the journey south from Naples, the Amalfi Coast or Salerno to visit the magnificent Greek temples and archaeological museum in Paestum. They even do guided tours of the farm. But we recommend not timing your visit for too late in the day: they only make 200kg of mozzarella a day, and – like many of the best things in life – when it’s gone, it’s gone.
Vannulo, via Galileo Galilei 101, Capaccio Paestum