By Scott Wright

A SCOTTISH buffalo mozzarella maker has secured its first multiple listing with a major grocer as it outlined his ambition for locally made product to compete with Italian imports of the cheese.

The breakthrough deal for The Buffalo Farm in Fife means its product is now on sale in more than 100 Aldi stores in Scotland. It comes after founder Steve Mitchell, a sixth generation farmer, raised £850,000 through crowdfunding investment to launch the market last year.

Mr Mitchell decided to farm buffalo as he sought a “unique selling point”, reasoning that Scotland already had many farmers excelling in beef and other meat production. He was inspired by his uncle, who built up a “tremendous reputation” for the Puddledub Pork sausage and bacon brand. Having bought his first buffalo from Wales, Mr Mitchell now has the largest herd of water buffalo in Scotland. He has more than 500 grass-fed buffalo roaming freely on the hills at Clentrie Farm. Most come from Mediterranean nations such as Italy.

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The award-winning mozzarella made on the farm is now on sale in Aldi stores under the grocer’s Specially Selected range.

Mr Mitchell said the link with the discounter came through his friendship with a farmer in Ireland, who had moved into the production of buffalo mozzarella and sold it through Aldi there. Mozzarella made from buffalo milk in Ireland now outsells the equivalent product imported from Italy.

“The evidence suggests in Ireland that if we give people access to this fresh and local product, sales will grow,” Mr Mitchell said. “They have changed the eating habits of the Irish, to an extent. That is why I believe Aldi have been so keen to support us here in Scotland.”

While the product has only been on sale since June 1, Mr Mitchell said the “early signs are positive”, though he acknowledged that buffalo mozzarella does come with a price premium attached. However, he underlined his belief that it is a superior product to the cows’ milk equivalent. He said buffalo milk lends itself well to mozzarella because of its higher-fat content and protein compared with milk from cows. He noted that buffalo can be milked well into their teens, significantly longer than normal cows.

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Mr Mitchell has a target of milking 100 of his herd twice a day. Some of the herd are calves that need to be reared, and have to reach the age of around two and a half before they can be milked. The male calves are reared for the butchery side of the business.

“Because of the way we keep our buffalo, and the much lower yield, the product does have to carry an extra price tag,” Mr Mitchell said. “It is more than three times the price of the cow milk equivalent in Aldi, but I definitely think it is more than three times the quality. But it is all very well me having that opinion – we need to see what the public make of it [and] if the demand will warrant us staying on the shelves. As I learned from my very early days at the farmers’ market, it is easy to sell something once, it is the repeat ones that are really, really important.”

Mr Mitchell, who has appeared on television shows such as BBC’s Farming Life and Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word, hopes the listing will boost his aspirations to sell the product a UK-wide, as well as into the hospitality industry, and export markets.

But he said the biggest challenge will ultimately be to find other dairy farms in Scotland to provide buffalo milk as demand for the mozzarella increases.

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Mr Mitchell said: “Our factory has the capacity to be doing five or six times the volume we are at the moment. We have been pretty ambitious with the way we have set it up. But we feel so strongly that is such a great opportunity that it was the right thing to do – get the infrastructure in place so we can focus on building the volume.”

Graham Nicolson, group buying director at Aldi Scotland said: “Scotland has some of the most dynamic food and drink producers anywhere in the world, and The Buffalo Farm is a great example of the exceptional innovation we are seeing here in this country.

“Steve and his team have taken a hugely popular product, which has been around for generations, and found a way to make it Scottish, providing a fresher alternative that is full of flavour.

“We are excited to be on this journey with them, and to be the first supermarket in the world to offer Scottish buffalo mozzarella to shoppers.”