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Love, loss and mozzarella: Saving her buffalo dairy | Bartell's Backroads

Audrey Hitchcock's four-legged friends helped her through a tragic loss. Now, she's struggling to find a new home for her water buffalo dairy.

TOMALES, Calif. — In its simplest form; mozzarella is milk, a little starter culture, and some enzymes mixed into a solid. But cheese buffs will argue true mozzarella can only be made with buffalo milk, and one of the oldest places to get buffalo milk mozzarella in California is from Audrey Hitchcock, owner of Ramini Mozzarella in Tomales.

“So, technically we can be considered the pioneers now because at the time nobody was making it and we are still around,” said Hitchcock.

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Not to be confused with bison, these are water buffalo -- a much tamer and gentler animal. Aside from the U.S., buffalo milk is commonly used around the world.

“Buffalo milk has double the protein, double the butter fat, and half the cholesterol and fat,” said Hitchcock.

To spread awareness of the healthy properties of buffalo milk, Hitchcock welcomes visitors to the ranch to experience life on the farm.   

Unlike most cow milking operations, the buffalo get milked right alongside their babies and none of the animals here are ever sent to slaughter. Hitchcock hopes the methods used on her ranch will one day change the dairy industry through hands-on education.

“If you give them human kindness and love, then they will return that,” said Hitchcock.

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Audrey Hitchcock and her late husband, Craig Ramini, started their buffalo ranch back in 2009 after leaving their jobs in Silicon Valley.

“He said, 'Let’s do buffalo mozzarella.' Ha! Craig always wanted to be unique,” said Hitchcock.

Craig lost his battle with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2014, leaving Hitchcock with the choice of either letting go of the buffalo ranch or continuing.

“I didn’t want to be at home missing my husband every day. These girls took my mind off grief and gave me purpose,” said Hitchcock.

Credit: ABC10 news
Ramini Mozzarella is one of California's oldest buffalo dairies. Their lease is almost up and they don't have anywhere else to move their buffalo.

The buffalo helped Hitchcock through the toughest time in her life, but soon she will be facing another challenge.

“We had a limited lease on the land and those years are up," she said.

Come Oct. 2022, Hitchcock will need to move all 50 buffalo to an affordable new home -- preferably an old dairy with at least 100 acres. Until she finds new land to lease, tours will continue and she will keep her and her husband’s dream alive.

“It’s too precious of a company for me to give up because he is gone," she said.

Ramini Mozzarella is open by appointment, either by calling 415-690-6633 or by visiting their website.

HIT THE BACKROADS:  Summer is here! Plan your ultimate road trip with John Bartell's list of California's top 10 destinations to visit.

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