A distant cousin of the North American bison, the water buffalo was introduced to Italy and, in particular, Cilento by returning Crusaders in the Middle Ages. Today these herds are famed for producing distinctive milk with a far higher fat and protein content than cows' milk. This, in turn, results in that superbly soft, creamy and mildly tangy mozzarella that you taste all over the region and that bears little resemblance to the leathery, bland product you find outside Italy. The mozzarella di bufala here is considered to be among the best in the country.
In Cilento there are several farms producing bufala milk, but only one organic producer – not just in Cilento but apparently throughout Italy: Tenuta Vannulo, located a 10-minute drive from Paestum.
Tenuta Vannulo makes its mozzarella exclusively from buffalo milk, unlike most producers who combine it with cows' milk. Its cheese is unpasteurised, and it also produces and serves wonderful ice cream. The farm is open to the public for tours (in English and Italian) of the production facilities, the buffalo stables and an agricultural museum. Visits culminate in that all-important tasting; lunch is an additional option. Advance reservations are essential.
You can also buy fresh mozzarella here, though be warned that demand is such that it generally runs out by early afternoon. And that's despite the considerable daily production of around 400kg, enough for several thousand caprese salads…
Going Wild for Orchids
The Parco Nazionale del Cilento is a rich natural environment for fauna and flora and has been declared part of UNESCO's biosphere-preservation program. There are a number of extremely rare plant species here, including the primrose of Palinuro (the symbol of the park). Horticulture enthusiasts will likely trip over their pitchforks when they hear that some 265 varieties of wild orchid flourish annually in the park (the equivalent of 80% of the total number of wild-orchid varieties in Europe).
Concentrated in the appropriately named Valle delle Orchidee (Valley of the Orchids), near the picturesque small town of Sassano (9km west of the Certosa di San Lorenzo in Padula), this annual dazzle of sumptuous colour encompasses 70 orchid species and normally takes place from late April to early May. The surrounding countryside is beautiful, so even if you miss the orchids you can still enjoy the drive and may well glimpse some other wildlife – the park is home to foxes, badgers, wolves, wild boars and the largest otter population in Italy.
Take the sign marked percorso turistico on the left just as you enter Sassano; you will pass the medieval bridge of Peglio and woods of silver birches before this blooming event unfolds in all its glory in the valley beyond. You can also join an organised tour with Gruppo Escursionistico Trekking.