The Amish Buffalo
Normal people don’t get their dairy products from a cooler in as stranger’s backyard. They go to the grocery store and stand in line and pay for their milk and cheese and butter and whatever else can be made from what a cow squirts out of its udders. I don’t fall into that category. During the last month I’ve been on an organic food adventure, one that involves a private club that sells water buffalo and camel milk to city folk.
My adventure began with the purchase of a half-gallon of raw milk from a food stand in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, one of the country’s best indoor markets. The sale of raw (unpasteurized) milk is legal in Pennsylvania but banned in most states because of concerns that bacteria in the milk, spared the extremely high heat of pasteurization, can cause sickness. The problem with pasteurization process is that heating up milk to such high temperatures is that it also kills beneficial bacteria along with the potentially harmful stuff. Would I want to drink unpasteurized milk from an industrial farm where cows are raised in horrendous conditions? No, but a small farm operation that raises its livestock organically is a different story. I bought the milk because I was interested in trying out the flavor and getting some of the health benefits that nutritionist say raw milk provides—like vitamins and better digestion—and was willing to take the risk.
The raw milk had an almost “wild” taste to it. I could actually taste the grass the cow had grazed on. I googled the brand on the label and found out that it came from an Amish farm outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I also learned that by joining a private club, I could get milk and other products from the farm delivered to DC on a weekly basis. Soon after I was signing a contract pledging that I was not a federal agent and would not file a liability lawsuit against the club for any reason.
The array of products the farm offers is astoundingly comprehensive. Let’s start with dairy. The less adventurous might just want to start with cow dairy. Not only can you can get milk, but there’s also yogurt, kefir, butter, cheese, and colostrum—a term for the first batch of milk that a mother delivers to its young. I might lay off that one. There’s also goat and sheep dairy. For those of you who shop at Moms Organic Market or maybe even Whole Foods, you might be familiar with goat milk, or feta cheese (sheep), but how many of you have tried raw goat butter?
For the more adventurous, the farm also sells dairy products from water buffalos and camels. You can buy water buffalo milk, mozzarella cheese, a camembert-like cheese, and even water buffalo ice cream. The farm also offers camel milk, camel yogurt, and camel kefir. When I told people I was ordering raw water buffalo milk and water buffalo mozzarella cheese online the usual reaction was one of confusion tinged with disgust. If they only knew that mozzarella cheese is actually supposed to be made from water buffalo milk! They actually still make it that way in Italy.
You might ask how I get the food delivered to DC. The pickup process was a learning experience. I gave the club coordinator my address and she assigned me one of the area’s several different locations where the food is driven to. My pickup location was named for an animal that only exists in people’s imaginations: a unicorn. I was given careful instructions not to approach the front door of the house at the pickup location, lest the three sick dogs that live in the house be disturbed by my presence.
Finding the address, I went around back and spotted a picture of a unicorn on the wooden gate of the back yard. I was assured I was in the right spot, unless someone else just coincidentally happened to have a picture of a unicorn on their back gate. The gate was closed and I didn’t want to disturb the sick dogs or get shot in the process. So I called the coordinator and was reassured that I was in fact in the right spot, and that I should just go into the backyard and pick up my items.
I pushed open the gate and gingerly entered an unkempt backyard with two white coolers filled with ice. I flipped open the coolers to find the bagged items I had ordered. I quickly scooped them up and made a beeline home to taste my haul.
The water buffalo milk, contained in a jar with a stark white label “Water Buffalo Milk,” was exceedingly rich and tasty—so much better than regular cow milk. If not for its $8 price tag per pint, I’d be drinking it with my cereal a few times a week. The water buffalo mozzarella was not as crazy as I thought—it tasted great with crackers but was almost indistinguishable from the regular kind. The raw sheep yogurt was a little wild for my taste, but with some blueberries and granola its exotic flavor was tamed. I also bought a goose breast. I waited until my wife, a vegan, was out of town before sautéing it on a cast iron pan to perfection. I finished it off for 6 minutes in a 200 degree oven, its juices sizzling against the oven window.
As is obvious with the goose order, the farm also sells a lot of meat. Basically every cut of beef you can imagine, duck, chicken, turkey, goose, pork, veal, and even fish—don’t ask me how the Amish are selling salmon. I don’t know if the Amish are known for their seafood. They also sell chicken feet, turkey necks, cow brains, and just about every other weird item that most Americans wouldn’t want to lay their eyes on much less their put on their plates.
I also noticed they sell organic pet food. If my dog Ollie behaves better and stops his barking and leash aggression on walks, I might buy him some. But last week he tried to attack an old, three-legged beagle. Until he stops his discrimination against the elderly and the disabled segment of the canine community, I will have Amish pet food sanctions placed against him.
This week I bit the bullet and sprung for a pint of camel milk to be delivered to Unicorn. I heard camel milk tastes great, and will complement my camel-meat eating experience in Iran.
The farm also sells desserts. I ordered Shoofly pie, a molasses pie considered traditional among the Amish. Trying all this stuff out is a fun. There are some things that I will not try no matter what, like the soap made of goat milk. I give them an A+ for originality though.
This Amish food experience opened a bunch of foods for me to experiment with and enjoy. My wife shakes her head and smiles as she sees me walk in the door and display foods raised from the earth by a people who live a life completely different from us. I thank them for letting me into their world.