Ontario Water Buffalo Company: Satiating Demand for Mozzarella Di Bufala in Hastings County
Expect water buffalos to be clever and playful, says Martin Littkemann, co-owner of Ontario Water Buffalo Company in Hastings County. “Cows are quiet and mind their business, but the Buffalo thinks, ‘I’m not sure he locked that gate 100%, I better go check it out.’”
Littkemann was a cow farmer until opportunity (and a trip to see Italy’s ¼ million water buffalo industry) pointed out the need for buffalo in Canada. “We stay in this area because it’s economically viable – it’s a successful business,” agrees Lori Smith, Littkemann’s partner in their agri-venture.
High-end Chefs and Foodies Want More Buffalo Products
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) cites water buffalo as the second largest milk producer in the world—but there aren’t enough in Canada.
“We were the first in Ontario to milk water buffalo. The quota system makes the venture safer by regulating the number of imports,” says Littkeman. It helps that products like Mozzarella Di Bufala (the fresh Italian-style mozzarella produced by buffalo milk) are supposed to be eaten fresh. Toronto’s cheese factories were calling up the Hastings’ farm even before their animals arrived in Ontario to satisfy the desires of high-end chefs and foodie clients. And the phone has been ringing off the hook ever since.
“We have a product that we don’t have to push. We can only just keep up with Canadian demand,” says Littkemann. “We haven’t even been able to consider exporting to the USA yet, but the demand is there too.” The next step is to get a buffalo milk-processing facility nearby so they can stop sharing cheese factory space with cow diary farmers who are already running at 110%.
The Ontario Water Buffalo team also hasn’t pursued the health market yet, but those who suffer from milk allergies may soon find buffalo milk a comfortable alternative. “Anything you make from cow you can make from buffalo, but people who are on a lactose-restricted diet can tolerate buffalo milk and cheese better.” Locally raised fresh buffalo meat is attractive to Ontario’s burgeoning ‘local food’ movement, too.
Infrastructure Supports Ontario’s Agri-ventures
The milk is easily transported from their farm. “The cheese factory trucks milk two times a week to Toronto. It’s made into one tonne of cheese a week, and it’s all gobbled up.”
“There are programs here to help us finance buildings, upgrades, research, hiring staff, and we can also access advice and consulting,” says Smith. The local colleges and universities have helped with research collection. The busy farm is in expansion mode: a new milking facility and a retail shop will soon be in use. “People come from all over to visit us. Both the Cheddar and Ale Trail and the Great Waterway Route is connected through Hastings County,” she adds.
For a long time, farming in Ontario hasn’t been considered a viable career—but the popularisation of artisan cheese is bringing the kids home to their parents’ farm, says Smith, who has seen the shift in the British Columbia’s water buffalo industry. “We’re just beside ourselves with excitement for the opportunities in this business, and no one feels that way about farming anymore, but they should! We’ve been to Italy, Argentina, Thailand, and we’re going to Costa Rica—it’s been a lot of fun.”