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Last Updated: Friday, 18 June, 2004, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Italian seeks cheesy solution in NI
Martin Cassidy
BBC Northern Ireland rural affairs correspondent

It was one of Italy's best kept secrets.

But when Italian farmers lost the knack of making their famous mozzarella cheese, they came to an expert in Northern Ireland for help.

They sent an 'envoy' to consult one of Europe's top cheese-making gurus based at Loughry food and agricultural college near Cookstown in County Tyrone.

Giuseppe Aprea and Michael Mullan at Loughry Agricultural College
Giuseppe seeks some answers from Micheal at the Cookstown college

Micheal Mullan has made a special study of problems with cheese starter cultures and student Giuseppe Aprea arrived from Italy to learn how to solve the difficulty with their buffalo milk mozzarella .

Buffalo milk, explains Giuseppe, is often processed on small farms in southern Italy to produce a cheese which is recognised by Europe as a regional speciality.

The buffalo typically produce less than half the quantity of a dairy cow but the milk is creamy and rich - ideal for culturing into the famous mozzarella cheese, used on pizzas.

But recently, a number farmers have had problems getting the milk to coagulate and the local cheese lovers have been left empty-handed.

Many years ago I developed a number of procedures to actually deal with these sorts of problems and so Giuseppe is here to learn these techniques
Micheal Mullan
Loughry Agricultural college
The traditional mozzarella method involves using a starter culture which is mixed with the milk to produce the creamy white cheese.

"It may just be a seasonal problem but in some cases there is a delay in the coagulation of the milk," said Giuseppe.

All around the Loughry laboratory are neatly labelled plates which are being cultured and scrutinised under microscopes and the watchful eye of cheese expert Dr Mullan.

It was Micheal's published work on starter cultures which caught the attention of Giuseppe's professor back at the faculty of Federico 11 in Naples.

"Many years ago I developed a number of procedures to actually deal with these sorts of problems and so Giuseppe is here to learn these techniques," said Micheal Mullan.

Italian cheese makers
Mozzarella mixture stopped thickening for Italian cheese makers
The Italian scientist is keen not to waste a moment and is often seen working with the cheese starter cultures late into the night.

With anxious farmers back home, Giuseppe knows there is no time to waste.

Every day the cheese fails to set is another expensive setback for the small-scale mozzarella farmers.

Soon, Giuseppe will be heading home to sort out the problem in the mozzarella industry.

But the young Italian says he will miss Ireland - and the taste of the cheddar cheese he has been eating in County Tyrone.


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