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Scotland's Larder: Steve Mitchell from The Buffalo Farm

Cat Thomson heads to the Buffalo farm and talks to Steve Mitchell about his Scottish mozzarella mission and tries her hand at milking.

Published: June 22, 2022

You might be familiar with buffalo farmer Steve Mitchell's buffalo journey, as he has appeared on various tv shows such as Channel 4's Tricky Business, Gordon Ramsay F word, BBC's Landward and This Farming Life.

However he has recently closed a deal to supply his Fife produced Scottish Buffalo mozzarella to all Aldi stores in Scotland. So it is a cause for great celebration and my excuse to visit the farm and get up close and personal to the herd to try my hand at milking.

Steve comes from at least six previous generations of farmers, so there must be something in his genes.

His father was tragically killed in a farm accident when Steve was young but despite this, he said, "I was very much drawn to the farm."

Following his death Steve's uncle and aunt took over the running of the farm which saw big changes with his father's cattle being sold off.

Family

Steve's mother, realised that his talents lay in livestock rather than academia, so she supported his interest in farming and bought him a couple of Simmentals to begin his own herd.

Steve Mitchell The Buffalo Farm
Steve Mitchell as a lad with one of his calves

She died when he was a teenager but she had encouraged him to study Agriculture at university; "I don't know how I managed to get in to be honest. It was probably the fact that I had hands on experience with my herd of cows and in the interview they saw my passion and that I deserved an opportunity."

He adds, "I'm really pleased I managed to achieve that for her."

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What's your beef

After university he worked with pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle in the Borders; "I was in awe of the family that I worked for, and the years of hard work that had gone into getting an incredible quality of animals."

But he realised to be a serious pedigree beef breeder needed huge amounts of capital with no guarantee of success.

Steve Mitchell The Buffalo Farm
Steve Mitchell and a handsome bull

Instead he began working with his uncle at Puddledub pork; "I absolutely loved doing farmers markets for him because he was selling a great product, and hearing people eulogising about it is what really inspired me."

Steve wanted a similar venture, but needed to find something with a U.S.P.

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Buffalo

He decided on buffalo because they are versatile and farming is massive globally. (12 % of the world's milk is produced by buffalo.)

First he ordered some buffalo meat to taste and was impressed." He then managed to persuade the bank to back him and invested his inheritance to buy a herd from a farmer.

He bought 100 buffalos, some to breed and keep while the rest were to be fattened for meat.

The plan was to produce milk for making mozzarella eventually but the initial investment needed was prohibitive.

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Steve Mitchell The Buffalo Farm
Aldi in Scotland will stock The Buffalo Farm mozzarella

Buffalo are similar to cattle in terms of diet but have a reputation for being destructive, Steve said, "they are a bit like me they can be a bit clumsy."

So they need strong fences, "They see normal fences as a bit of a scratching place but they are amazing converters of forage so that is the reason they have thrived in some pretty poor parts of the world," he said.

They also thrive in the Scottish climate; "And they like to wallow in a mud hole," he said.

The F Word

In winter buffalo come inside like beef cattle. Steve admits that his customers educated him about mozzarella; "I tried some but couldn't really see what they were going on about."

But when Nick Nairn told him to get into mozzarella but when Gordon Ramsay visited the farm he began to take the idea seriously.

Gordon Ramsay had planned to film Steve's buffalo meat production but the filming schedule changed and they were going to be dropped.

Gordon Ramsay filming the FWord at Steve Mitchell's Buffalo farm
Gordon Ramsay filming the FWord at The Buffalo farm

But the team asked Steve if there was any way he could make buffalo mozzarella. Initially he said no, but 24 hours later he reconsidered and agreed they could film their first ever cheese trial.

He said, "Having now done it properly, I do not know how the eck that worked out."

Steve rounded up a few of his buffaloes, brought them into the barn, milked them by hand and then made mozzarella in his aunt and uncle's kitchen with the help of two experts the next morning.

Steve said, "The product was seriously good, I thought, hang on a minute I know what people have been talking about now."

Italy

So he went on a fact finding trip to Italy and discovered; "In places like Naples mozzarella is almost a religion."

View of the Gulf of Naples from the Posillipo hill with Mount Vesuvius far in the background. Photo: Getty

Turning that into a reality back in Fife, has not been easy, a low point came when his funding fell through.

He persevered and crowdfunded instead; he said, "I believe things happen for a reason, at the time it felt absolutely terrible but we have done it now with our founder investors."

The whole experience was humbling with all sorts of people believing, investing and championing the farm.

Aldi

The Aldi deal has now given Steve the confidence to grow further and know he can repay his founders, he said, "It wouldn't have happened without them."

Aldi have been very supportive and Steve plans to emulate the success of a similar venture in Ireland.

Steve is grateful to everyone that has helped but especially Jim Ritchie the Project Manager who over saw the whole mozzarella factory production set up and the Head Cheesemaker Juan Vicente Reggeti

Juan is from Venezuela where his family farm buffalo, he came to visit the farm and Steve explains "we have not really let him leave since."

Milking it

On my visit Adam Porter the Herd Manager showed me how the milking process works and then let me have a go.

Pull the udder one. Photo: Tony McGuire

The majestic beasts are milked twice a day, at 7am and again in the afternoon and queue up at their gate at milking time before slowly sauntering into the milking shed. Steve said, "They are creatures of habit, buffalo love a routine."

Buffalo milk has 8.5 % fat compared to cow's which have 4% and it contains more protein but the negative is you only get a quarter of the milk in comparison to a normal cow.

In the milking parlour, all the ladies wear high tech collars to control how much food they get while they are being milked by machine.

Bully

Steve tells us one of the things he dislikes about buffalo is they are bullies.

Steve Mitchell The Buffalo Farm
Steve Mitchell with his herd of Buffalo in Fife.

They have to monitor their behaviour closely because they can pick on one animal and prevent it from eating and drinking,

He said, "I don't know what it does to become the victim but we have to take it out and reintroduce it back in a month, It is like it has upset somebody."

Puncture

Steve knows from personal experience the damage that a buffalo can do; "I was doing a photoshoot, and I wasn't paying attention and a very young calf walked towards me, the mother was a protective mum."

He suffered serious puncture wounds and spent a month in hospital.

There are currently four bulls on the farm whose job is to keep a steady stream of females buffaloes in calf to provide a constant supply of milk for cheesemaking.

48 hours after birth the calves are taken away from their mothers, Steve said, "That was something I felt uncomfortable about at first, but actually they have not really bonded and they are just desperate to get back out to the field with their pals."

The young male calves are then kept for 2 1/2 years before being destined for the butchery.

Soon the farm's success will mean they are not able to produce enough milk to expand further so Steve hopes to persuade some other Scottish farmers to consider milking buffalo.

Spreading the word

Steve is married to Sarah and the couple have two children, Harry 2 1/2 and Daisy who is 6 months, "Harry is very interested in the tractors while Daisy is desperate to clap the calves."

Looking ahead Steve's plan is to fine tuning what they are already doing, updating the website and he said, "I'm hoping to do a bit of youtubing, as I have spotted this as my way out of the office and a way to keep up with what is going on behind the scenes on the buffalo farm."

He adds, "I'm very lucky that people are interested and that has helped our business enormously. If people want to hear about us then most importantly it is whetting their appetite to buy the product and that is what really counts."

He adds, "It is very pleasing we have got this momentum coming now with Aldi that will help us enormously."

It has been a roller coaster ride so far, so let's see what happens next on the buffalo farm.

The Buffalo Farm 
Boglily Farm Steading
Kirkcaldy
KY2 5XY

01592 646252 

orders@thebuffalofarm.co.uk

Catriona is based in the Scottish Borders and works as part of the audiovisual team at the Scotsman but she reviews restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writes for Scotsman Food and Drink in her spare time.

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