Mozzarella: from the Italian “mozzare = to chop”, is a traditional cheese that comes from Southern Italy and is most commonly associated with pizza.
Men and women in white overcoats busy themselves around a series of machines in a large white and spotless room. The is an almost undetectable smell of dairy permeating the atmosphere; you have to wrinkle your nose to catch a whiff of it. We could be in a science lab, a soft whirring in the background underlines how this is one of those places where humans and machines work in perfect harmony. In a corner, a large contraption is pulling and kneading at what looks like a pure white dough. In the centre of the room, large milky vats of water are being stirred and tended to.
Situated amidst the rolling tea plantations of Tigoni, Browns Farm feels incredibly small. Actually it isn’t small at all, but when you stop and consider the sheer volume of cheese that the farm produces, you can’t help but marvel at how petite it appears. What from the outside looks like a compact farmhouse, upon closer inspection reveals itself as an impressive operation which churns out significant quantities of almost every cheese you have ever heard of. Cheddar, gouda, camembert, parmesan, feta, cottage cheese and of course mozzarella, are just a few of the dairy products that form the portfolio of this unique, awardwinning, establishment.
“My parents started this operation in 1979 at a time in which Kenya was not allowing any imported cheeses into the country” explains Delia Stirling, standing by a long wooden table in the sun-filled dining room of the family home which sits adjacent to the farm’s cheese making operation. “My dad was just dying for some camembert so when my mother next went to Scotland, she brought back some cultures and set about finding out how to turn them into cheese”.
Delia, who took over the cheese making operation from her parents four years ago, has taken her parents’ ethos to heart and continues to produce Browns cheese according to strict biodynamic and organic principles. “I just decided to become a bit more pushy from a marketing perspective” she laughs, a strand of blond hair falling from underneath the white cap she dons to protect her cheeses while on site. As part of our cheese tour, the EatOut team is being treated to a lesson in how to make Mozzarella, everyone’s favourite stringy white cheese and one of the core products of the Browns’ operation. They currently produce a series of different Mozzarellas: from the soft and milky ovolini that we previously saw being kneaded by the large contraption, to the harder but more elastic “pizzella”, specifically created to go on pizza, to those made according to guidelines set out by clients such as Dominos.
Making mozzarella is an art but the basics, as Delia demonstrates, are really rather simple. Take a large piece of curd, cut it into cubes and then stick it into a bowl around which you gently pour hot water, mixing it around with a few tablespoons of salt until the curd fuses together into one homogenous blob. Next pick up the mass of melted curd, knead and pull it into one long ribbon. Finally flatten the ribbon, fold it over itself and push it through your fist to create a perfectly smooth and round mozzarella ball.
As we await for the pizzas made with our own handmade mozzarella to come out of the oven, Delia describes how when it comes to mozzarella, the buffalo mozzarella from around Naples in Italy has no comparisons. This, she explains, is because buffalo milk is much more fatty than cow milk thus giving the cheese its luscious and creamy taste. She explains that traditionally in Italian homes, people would buy curd in the afternoon and then make their own mozzarella to be served in time for the evening meal. Delia says she hopes to soon start selling curd in retail establishments across Nairobi to see if this trend might catch on here too. We all nod in agreement, although truth be told, our attention has been diverted by the three steaming hot pizzas that have just been placed before us..