If you tell a Roman that you are going Paestum for the weekend, invariably he or she will tell you: “Make sure you pick up some mozzarella di bufala.”
Paestum is a sight to see without the culinary pit stop. A city known as “Poseidonia” when it was part of Magna Grecia, Paestum is home to three extraordinarily preserved Greek (Doric) temples that date from 600 to 450BC. The two temples to Hera and the temple to Athena sit on a wide, grassy plot of land that is much easier to navigate than the not-too-distant Pompeii, the more famous ruins an hour north of here.
The Archeological Site of Paestum
Together with a museum that contains fragments of paintings, vases, and other artifacts, the Parco Archeologico di Paestum is a pleasant, well-paced history lesson that you can explore in half a day…or longer, depending upon your speed and interests.
The Dairy Products of Paestum and Its Subregion
When I mention Paestum to residents in Rome, they agree that the ruins are worth seeing. But they also start to talk about the food, in particular the dairy products.
Paestum is in the heart of Mozzarella di Bufala country. This dairy route starts from Rome (or just south) and spreads down to the other provinces of Lazio (Latina and Frosinone); most of Campania, including Salerno, Paestum’s province; and to the mountainous western part of Puglia (Provincia di Foggia). This culinary sub-region’s claim to fame and flavor is the water buffalo, the large, black, horned beasts that produce the milk for yogurt, gelato, and the most highly prized types of fresh mozzarella, mozzarella di bufala.
In truth, you could combine a quest for mozzarella di bufala and dairy products a la bufala with a trip to Naples, Caserta’s Palazzo Reale (Royal with Cheese?) or the Riviera di Ulisse (Beaches and Cream?). But I think the combo of Greek / Yogurt (Greek ruins + buffalo yogurt) that you get by way of Paestum is a winner.
There are several excellent dairies/vendors of mozzarella di bufala on the byways between Paestum and Salerno including Tenuta Vannullo, where we picked up, among other things, large glass containers of buffalo yogurt (plain and one flavored with blueberry). You can see the buffaloes grazing on the green pastures when you pull up to the tenuta — the unmistakable cattle are visible from the road — and there are stables, a dairy, a yogurteria, and a museum on the premises. Guided tours of Tenuta Vannullo are available, too.