by Livia Hengel for USA TODAY 10Best

The pampered buffaloes behind Italy's best cheese

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Around one hour south of Naples, Italy, water buffaloes are getting the royal treatment at Tenuta Vannulo, one of Italy's premier organic dairy farms.

The mozzarella here is produced rigorously by hand according to traditional cheese-making methods.

And the buffaloes themselves are treated to state-of-the-art machinery that caters to their every whim.

Each morning, Vannulo’s 600 female water buffaloes awaken to the sound of Mozart’s symphonies before enjoying on-demand massage treatments, courtesy of machines outfitted with large, rotating bristles.

There is ample bedding scattered throughout, perfect for lounging and afternoon naps, and misty showers to keep them cool in the hot summer months.

Photo courtesy of Livia Hengel

If a buffalo gets sick, she is treated with homeopathic medicines rather than antibiotics.

The Palmieri family, which has owned Tenuta Vannulo for more than a century, insists that keeping the buffaloes pampered, healthy and relaxed yields a superlative product.

Photo courtesy of Livia Hengel

Vannulo produces only 400 kg of mozzarella daily and it sells out by noon, with customers lining up from 9:30 am to purchase this veritable white gold.

The mozzarella comes in various shapes and sizes – from the treccia, or braid, to bocconcini, little bites – and is all kneaded, cut and molded by hand at the crack of dawn.

Mozzarella is an important element of south Italian cuisine and is used in a number of regional dishes, from pizza margherita and caprese salad to baked gnocchi and cold pasta salads.

Mozzarella di bufala is higher in fat content than its counterpart made from cow's milk (about 8% versus 4%) and has a richer, tangier consistency.

To produce this eminent cheese, rennet is added to fresh buffalo milk and the curds are stirred before cheese-makers begin to stretch, knead and pull apart the mixture, a process known as mozzare.

Although Tenuta Vannulo is just one of many dairy farms located along Italy’s famous Strade della Mozzarella, or Mozzarella Roads, it has achieved cult-status for the care and attention it gives its buffaloes.

Photo courtesy of Livia Hengel

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