Milk – a commodity so common that you probably don’t give it a second thought. You’d most definitely have tasted cow milk. Goat milk? Maybe. Buffalo milk? We’d bet our last dollar that you have not drank it.
In the serene town of Luang Prabang nestled amidst the lush landscapes of Laos lies a unique and heart-warming initiative. The Laos Buffalo Dairy – a social enterprise and socially responsible farm – has captured the hearts of both locals and tourists alike. As the name suggests, it is centred around dairy products made from the water buffalo.
The seemingly inconceivable idea came from two ladies – Australian Susie Martin who currently helms the farm as Chief Executive Officer and American Rachel O’Shea who serves as the Head Chef and takes care of production. The endeavour started in 2014 when the ladies noticed a virtually non-existent dairy industry in Laos and saw the untapped potential in revitalising the buffalo’s role.
Buffaloes hold a special place in Lao culture. These gentle giants have been indispensable to rural livelihoods for generations but their roles have been limited to ploughing the fields and carrying heavy loads. No one in Laos thought to use the buffalo, abundant in numbers, for dairy purposes. Dairy products also do not feature in the typical diet of a Laotian.
Sustainability at Its Core
Together with Susie’s husband Andrew Brown, Susie and Rachel set forth on an arduous journey to set up Laos Buffalo Dairy. The trio’s vision was not only to provide a source of income for the local communities but also to create a sustainable and ethical dairy farm.
This remarkable venture combines sustainable farming, community empowerment, and delicious dairy products, all focused around the gentle water buffalo. One of the key principles of Laos Buffalo Dairy is sustainability. Instead of purchasing their own buffalo, Laos Buffalo Dairy started off with renting buffaloes from the locals – a practice still in place up till today – to give the locals an additional avenue to earn income.
The venture began with the rental of three buffaloes from a local, Mr Eh from Thin Keo Village. For every single day for six weeks, the three buffaloes were milked. It was not a walk in the park after obtaining the buffalo milk though. Buffalo milk, being thicker in consistency than cow milk, calls for a different recipe when it comes to making dairy products like cheese. After much trial and error, Chef Rachel perfected her recipe and made her very first ball of mozzarella cheese using buffalo milk in April 2017.
Beyond environmental sustainability, the enterprise aims to create a self-sustaining system. Laos Buffalo Dairy trains local farmers in buffalo care and dairy production, empowering them to run their own farms. This not only elevates their economic status but also preserves traditional farming knowledge for future generations. Laos Buffalo Dairy also ensures that the buffaloes used are healthy by working with a veterinary consultant, who educates the farmers about milking, vaccinating and caring for the buffalo.
Today, Laos Buffalo Dairy is a 15-hectare farm with approximately 200 buffaloes rented from various villages around Luang Prabang and in turn, providing about US$45,000 in income per year to the local farmers.
The current product range includes mozzarella, ricotta, yoghurt, ice cream and cheese cake, which are sold in local restaurants, hotels and supermarkets in Luang Prabang and other parts of Laos.
According to Chef Rachel, buffalo milk is actually more nutritious than cow milk, with the former having a higher protein content per serving. Apart from buying from the local distribution channels, visitors to the farm can also indulge in a variety of dairy delights, including artisanal cheeses, decadent ice cream and velvety yoghurt. Taste-wise, the products are easy on the palate and do not have a strong, gamey taste like goat milk.
One of the signature products is the “Buffalicious” ice cream, available in an array of exotic flavours like lemongrass, tamarind and pandan, at 40,000 Kip (about S$2.70) per scoop. These flavours celebrate the local ingredients and traditions of Laos while providing a delectable treat for locals and tourists alike.
Laos Buffalo Dairy goes beyond being just a farm. It’s also a place of learning and cultural exchange. Apart from tasting the products, visitors can take part in guided tours, where they gain insights into buffalo husbandry and the dairy production process. There are also opportunities for hands-on experiences, like milking buffaloes and making cheese. These activities offer a deeper connection to the farm’s mission and the cultural heritage of Luang Prabang.
A Beacon of Hope
Laos Buffalo Dairy stands as a beacon of hope in Luang Prabang, a place where tradition and modernity converge in harmony. This social enterprise proves that it is possible to create sustainable businesses that benefit both the environment and the community. It exemplifies the spirit of responsible tourism, encouraging visitors to contribute positively to the places they explore.
Through its commitment to ethical practices, this innovative enterprise is changing the lives of Laotians, one buffalo at a time. Whether you’re a traveller seeking unique experiences or an advocate for sustainability, a visit to Laos Buffalo Dairy will leave you with a heart full of inspiration and a taste for something truly special.
Editor’s note: Our trip to Laos is made possible by SUSTOUR Laos Project, which is funded by the European Union and implemented by Plan International Laos.