There’s mozzarella and then there’s fresh buffalo milk mozzarella. There’s life and then there’s life led proactively, bravely, and consciously. Craig Ramini and his wife, Audrey, make fresh buffalo milk mozzarella, so it would be a decent wager to assume they live life proactively, bravely and consciously. I read their story several months back and never forgot the tale of leaving the stable (one letter shy of stale) career path and venturing into completely foreign territory, specifically between the legs of a postpartum buffalo.
I told my Mom about Craig and Audrey one day. A long time ago. Then I told Mr. Simplicity. And a chef here in Marin who’s a friend. I kept telling people about Ramini Mozzarella. The opportunities to do so continued to present themselves. Along with many others, I marveled from afar at their creativity, their trust in intuition, and their execution, the step-by-step manifestation of their dream.
Finally I decided, That’s it! I have to meet these two…
Which is how I ended up herding buffalo on Saturday. Something I had never done before. You’re picturing me all Calamity Jane, cowboy hat low over eyes that dart from one massive cocoa-colored animal to the next, looking for any that dare to break from the herd as my legs grip the ribcage of my stallion, ready to gallop at a moment’s notice.
You got the cowboy hat part right, but other than that I just stood still. On the ground. In sneakers.
Nonetheless, I’m claiming that I herded buffalo. And I tasted the fruits of Craig and Audrey’s labor of love. It was so shockingly good I gasped, surprising Craig and myself. I’ve tried to describe the flavor and have failed grandly. But the texture I would describe as dense and airy. Firm yet yielding. The color white like sifted snow, with the faintest hint of mother’s milk. The flavor? Mozzarella is to chicken broth what fresh buffalo mozzarella is to roasted chicken demi-glace. How’s that? Best I can do for now, but I commit to you to go back again and again until I make you feel like you ate a pound of it yourself. I am definitely eating more of that cheese.
Craig and I sat on tree stumps set in a circle in the shade of a small gathering of trees. As I listened to him talk about nurturing these wild, powerful animals with the most gentle, rich, silky brown eyes you’ve ever seen, shaded by long, delicate lashes, I could sense that these buffalo and their cheese would become important beings in my journey. It took me a long time to get to this farm, but the timing was perfect.
Our conversation didn’t settle on the ins and outs of dairy farming for more than a minute or two before we moved to more fertile ground; how one goes from software to soft cheese without questioning one’s sanity. Craig’s methodology was simple – do what feels good. He had an inkling that being around large animals would make him happy, so he started there. He filled a wall with post-it notes, creating a collage of what mattered most to him and ways he could turn that into a business that would satisfy his craving for an endeavor that meant something to him. A meaningful way of life that could translate into a meaningful business. He saw the connections between the animals and the need for locally produced cheese. And then came the a-ha! moment: fresh cheese from free-range buffalo. Before he wrote the business plan he ventured down under to work on a farm for a month to see if it really did feel good to him to be among the buffalo.
It wasn’t long before he was milking one in the field.
As I watched him herd the buffalo toward the pasture I couldn’t help but be taken by his enthusiasm, his zeal for being exactly where he is right now, even though there are so many unknowns ahead. I watched him lead the feisty teens to their playground and wondered if this connection to animals, to nature was something he always nurtured or if he only just uncovered it as he yearned for a more meaningful way of life. I could sense that no matter the challenge, he and Audrey would come up with a crafty solution out of desire to solve problems, not wallow in them. Out of a desire to succeed so that they could do what they love most of all.
Audrey and I connected deeply before I left the farm. We could have talked for hours, bouncing from topic to topic with zero small talk. Our time together ended too soon, but the work to be done at the farm beckoned. As the boys and I drove down the dirt road that led to a country lane, we all were energized by the experience of being among animals and people who were living out their dreams. Driving all the way from Petaluma to Stinson Beach was the last thing on our minds, until it became the first thing.
Do you guys want to climb boulders at Stinson?
Off we went.
As we drove through the rolling sea-floor like hills of western Marin I pondered the experience at Ramini Mozzarella. The decision to go to Stinson was made easier by the lesson I learned, and will continue to learn over and over, from Craig. Follow your intuition. Do what feels good. I knew it would feel good to be in Stinson, for the boys and for me. And it did.
We walked to the south end of the beach. The waves were big enough to crash, churning white and foamy as they came ashore. Their perfect rhythm echoing our own. We scaled the rocks that dotted the coastline, finding little nooks and cutouts to grab with our fingers and toes as we ascended. I watched the boys waver, then feed their confidence with a successful handhold here and a foot grab there.
The little dude took off at one point. I meandered among the giant boulders, looking down nature’s alley ways to spot him. He had made his way far up a mountain of rocks that led to a cliff, the barrier between Route 1 and the beach. He was 50 feet in the air and ecstatic that he got there on his own, with no one guiding his way. A trail blazed because he wanted to blaze it. So he figured out how to do so.
With only an apple and a banana in my belly, my thoughts turned to food and the Sand Dollar. We made our way back north just as the sun set behind the fog bank. I watched two little boys run in the sand, chase birds, find shells. The soft glow from sun turned their hair to spun gold as they ran zig zag along the beach. Being on the earth, away from iPads and To Do lists and dreams of buying every Lego kit known to man made them glow. This simple day of doing what felt right led to us feeling great.
We took that mojo to the Sand Dollar.
It can be hot in Stinson. Until the sun goes down. Then, no matter the month, it gets chilly. The best kind of chilly. A beach chilly. Not a northeast winter, your nipples will never forgive you chilly, but the kind of chilly you welcome because it wakes up your senses and your appetite. We chose to sit on the deck. I let the boys pick the table, a four top against the wall, with the bar visible through the glass to our back, the street to our right and the whole deck laid out before us. It was a brilliant selection.
From this one vantage point I watched couples cuddle, moms and dads with tiny children tend to their needs, attempting to eat their own food while it was still hot, and the most dapper couple in their late seventies, maybe early eighties, drive up in a classic (by classic I mean 40s) convertible, dressed to total perfection, coming to the Sand Dollar for their date night. All these sights felt amazing. I didn’t feel a single pang of jealousy or desire for what they had, but was simply delighted to be sharing in their experiences. I was the only uncoupled girl in the vicinity, but I was experiencing enough joy for a double date.
Mom, I’m freezing. Can we go inside?
I wrapped my shawl around the tall dude and snuggled him close.
Are you sure?
It’s too cold out here for me.
I checked with our server to see if there was space inside. He ventured in and returned to say that reservations had secured the available tables. I pulled the tall dude close and we talked about toughing out the cold for the sake of a cool experience. And at precisely that moment the roofs of two vans parked nose in on the street, 10 feet from us, rose on cue. The boys couldn’t believe their eyes. It took two minutes before the tall dude was planning on buying one to take to college and the little dude was figuring out how he could get inside to check one out.
Sam, the owner of the Sand Dollar, was busy tending to the needs of a packed house. He stopped by to ruffle the hair of the little dude and see how we were faring.
See those vans? There’s 10 French Canadian hockey players in those vans. He was talking to the boys, but he knew I’d be amused by the gathering street side. The doors to both vans were open, the wide glass giving us a view into their impromptu party.
Looking at me he said, I told them it would be an hour for a table and they decided to wait. They’re just hanging out, enjoying the night.
We were all enjoying everyone enjoying the night.
And it was a beautiful night. Sam disappeared and left room for the moon to rise directly ahead of us, fat and full, bright as night lights at a fall baseball game int he 9th innning. I paused and soaked in the details, the sounds, the laughter, the couple in the corner, her head snuggled into his shoulder as they fed each other, the baby being fed a warm bottle, the amazing greens that came with my cider-braised pork chop.
And then Sam reappeared with three Sand Dollar sweatshirts for the boys and me. We gratefully accepted his generosity. I helped the boys into theirs, which they wore with complete pride. (I’m certain we will live here one day.) They were touched by Sam’s thoughtful gesture. It made them feel loved and special. I could feel it. Now that they weren’t freezing the laughter really started to flow. And it drew the attention of the hockey players.
Sam returned to the deck and made his way to the railing. Shouting above the party sounds, he yelled,
Hey, figure skaters, your table’s ready!
The boys and I have laughed about that for days. And for days I have glowed from the encounter with those Canadians. As they made their way past our table, they stopped and casually expressed how moved they were by the joy and love that the boys and I shared as they watched us from their vans. It wasn’t just one guy, it was most of them.
The full moon hung over their heads, the ocean muted in the distance, the hills rising sharply to our east, brimming with wild life reclaiming their land from us day trippers. The boys and I were warmed by sweatshirts and good food. The Canadians showered me with praise. We talked about the NHL lockout and laughed about Lord Stanley’s Cup abandoned in a snow bank by players from the 1924 Montreal Canadiens after they fixed a flat tire en route to a house party to celebrate the victory. A house party. The Stanley Cup was in the trunk.
That is so Canada. Regardless of the year. I love that.
We would have chatted all night but the kitchen was closing and they had patiently waited to eat. As we walked through the restaurant on our way out, we stopped by the table of figure skaters to say good night. I can’t recall ever seeing a happier, more relaxed group of men. It was really uplifting.
I stepped aside for the gorgeous couple who had arrived in the convertible who were now preparing to depart. The man, in a camel colored jacket, his white hair trimmed to highlight his broad, handsome face, stopped me with a gentle touch.
You have a beautiful family.
She affirmed his words with glittering blue eyes that smiled, her rose lips following suit; a perfect crescent moon below a ski jump nose. She wore a dress printed with cabbage roses in muted barn red against a coffee with cream background. Her shawl, a hand knit masterpiece, was wrapped around her shoulders, framing the sweetheart neckline and fitted bodice, before the skirt flared out to just below her knees.
You really have a beautiful family. He squeezed my hands. And I received hugs from half the hockey team. Okay, they’re not really a hockey team, but when a group of Canadian guys gather you might as well refer to them as a hockey team. More often than not you’d be right.
In the fifteen paces it takes to walk from the deck to the front door I ran through all the events of the day. I felt like a vessel filled to the edge with optimism and excitement for what lay ahead. If all this can happen in one day, imagine where I’ll be a year from now? Imagine the growth from all those future encounters?
I didn’t plan this most perfect day. But I did take one step that I believe set in motion a chain of confirming events. Events designed to create joy and happiness as a reward for being proactive, for paying attention to the signs and for doing what feels good.
I emailed Craig Ramini. One email, one guy and his all-in beauty of a bride, a herd of buffalo and voila…s…tuff starts happening.
I emerged onto the porch of the Sand Dollar, looking forward to a magical drive home under the Harvest Moon. Sam was sitting on a bench talking with a couple. I thanked him for a wonderful evening, a great laugh, and those 3 sweatshirts.
I like Sam. Sam I am.