Naama Barak
June 4

It’s not every day that you sip coffee topped with buffalo milk. But that’s exactly what I enjoyed on a recent sunny morning at the Buffalo Farm in southern Israel along with Natalie, ISRAEL21c’s social media coordinator. 

The picturesque farm in Moshav Bitzaron is a family affair run by Chanoch Trister, whose father brought over the buffaloes from Italy to Israel in the early 1990s, and whose grandfather was one of the founders of the agricultural community in the early 1930s.

The picturesque Buffalo Farm is a family business going back generations. Photo by Naama Barak
The picturesque Buffalo Farm is a family business going back generations. Photo by Naama Barak

“We’ve always had cows,” Chanoch Trister tells ISRAEL21c. “But we established the buffalo farm in 1993. My dad had a dream, and he woke up one morning and said, ‘I’m going to bring buffaloes over here.’ That’s the type of person he is.”

Bringing the buffaloes over and getting Israelis used to the idea wasn’t easy, he said, but his parents persisted. 

“The journey was difficult, we had to build them buffalo sheds, to learn them as animals, and to try and market mozzarella – in the 1990s, people thought it was a hard, yellow cheese.”

Fast-forward three decades later, and the Buffalo Farm is the go-to place – indeed the only place – in Israel producing top-quality, artisanal products from buffalo milk. 

The Buffalo Farm’s burrata ball is a customer favorite. Photo by Natalie Selvin
The Buffalo Farm’s burrata ball is a customer favorite. Photo by Natalie Selvin

These include mozzarella and burrata balls, a range of hard, aged cheeses, flavored yogurts and labneh. 

Those visiting the onsite store also can purchase delicious buffalo milk ice cream.

Buffalo milk ice cream is a creamy and tangy creation perfect for an Israeli summer. Photo by Natalie Selvin
Buffalo milk ice cream is a creamy and tangy creation perfect for an Israeli summer. Photo by Natalie Selvin

The wide range is rather different than the buffalo milk products that can traditionally be found in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, but Trister says that they’ve expanded to suit local tastes.

“Nowadays, we can also be found in supermarkets, but we’re still very small,” Trister explains. “Our amount of milk is limited, so we only sell what we’ve got.”

Aside from a few select supermarkets, the Buffalo Farm products can also be found in delis, restaurants and pizzerias around the country. 

The farm expanded the range of products usually made from buffalo cheese to cater to Israeli tastes. Photo by Natalie Selvin
The farm expanded the range of products usually made from buffalo cheese to cater to Israeli tastes. Photo by Natalie Selvin

The way into people’s hearts, Trister notes, was won when top Israeli chefs purchased their wares, and from there they spread elsewhere.

They love to be petted

The Buffalo Farm has around 500 buffaloes, who appear to be happy animals living in capacious settings complete with two sprinkler showers a day to keep them cool in the heat. 

Trister walks around petting them as they all gather to greet their visitors. 

“The buffalo is a very friendly animal. They love being petted, they’re very quiet and curious. When you reach out a hand to pet them, they return love like a puppy. I love them,” he says.

Buffaloes are social herd animals who like visitors. Photo by Natalie Selvin
Buffaloes are social herd animals who like visitors. Photo by Natalie Selvin

The buffaloes are sorted by their ages and social groups. Trister explains that they’re incredibly social herd animals. 

There’s even an area designated for retired buffaloes who no longer produce milk. “They’ve ensured my livelihood for years. The least I can do is let them age gracefully,” he notes.

The buffaloes are sorted according to age and social preferences. Photo by Natalie Selvin
The buffaloes are sorted according to age and social preferences. Photo by Natalie Selvin

Speaking of aging gracefully, the Trister parents are still the active spirit behind the business.

“I love the peace and quiet, working with my family,” says Trister. 

“You get to see something that was milk in the morning and that by the afternoon ends up on a plate. It fills me with pride – it’s far from an easy life, but it’s a blessing.”

Dairy delights

Being a farmer in Israel, particularly a small-scale one, is no easy business, subject to a wide range of politics and, of course, war.

“A rocket fell right by the buffalo sheds a while ago. Two of my workers left because they were scared, and people didn’t come here because they were worried, not to mention that restaurants were closed. It was a difficult period.”

Customers can enjoy the farm’s products at their onsite store and at a number of restaurants, as well as in restaurants and pizzerias. Photo by Natalie Selvin
Customers can enjoy the farm’s products at their onsite store and at a number of restaurants, as well as in restaurants and pizzerias. Photo by Natalie Selvin

Actually, because it is located near Israel’s southeastern coast, the farm has been subject to the threat of Hamas rocket fire for years.

An airlift of Italian buffalos turns unique dream into reality
Buffalo Farm is located in southern Israel, and has experienced a difficult period during the war. Photo by Natalie Selvin

On the calm and quiet morning that ISRAEL21c visited, however, happy customers were wandering around the store and sitting at small tables in the beautiful garden sampling the wares.

“In the past, we used to do tastings, and when we said it was buffalo, people used to spit it out,” Trister recalls. “Now, people love it. Our bestsellers are the mozzarella, burrata and yogurts.”

Ahead of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, when many people eat dairy meals, the Buffalo Farm is introducing a Gouda cheese. “In the past we did a Tomme cheese that people really loved,” Trister says.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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