The Special Ingredient in This Gelato? Buffalo Milk
Yulia and Kal Morsey could never have predicted their current life. She’s a trained psychologist from Russia. He’s a former banker and businessman. But here they are running their own water buffalo dairy farm, a restaurant in Palo Alto and now Morsey’s Creamery, the only ice cream shop south of San Francisco producing gelato with water buffalo milk (residents and visitors located north can find buffalo milk gelato at Pt. Reyes's Palace Market).
As a child, Kal Morsey recalls how common it was to consume water buffalo milk dairy products in Egypt. In fact, he says Egyptians have always seen it as a better quality milk overall. “The difference between water buffalo’s milk and cow’s milk is quite substantial in taste, flavor, and texture. In this country, there are so many big-name gourmet foods and you still can’t find any buffalo milk at the store.”
Yulia agrees, especially when it comes to ice cream. "I tried buffalo’s milk ice cream when I visited Egypt while we were dating 35 years ago. I had never tasted anything like it. The memory of that stayed with me all these years."
After living in the States for several decades, he never gave up hope of finding the dairy foods of his youth. Seven years ago, he decided to visit the only buffalo farm he could find in California, Double 8 Dairy in Petaluma. To this day, Double 8 Dairy still supplies restaurants (and Palace Market) with buffalo milk gelato — owner Andrew Zlot opened a gelato kiosk in 2014 but the location eventually closed.
Back then, Kal was told that mainstream buffalo’s milk products just didn’t exist. That’s when he decided to take matters into his own hands.
“The only buffalo breeder we knew of was in Texas. So I decided to buy six water buffaloes from them to start with. Stupid, I know,” he recalls. “I kept thinking, what do I do next? What am I gonna do with these water buffalo? I got so invested in the idea of it being the next big thing. Then all of a sudden, I realized I should open a restaurant so I could use our dairy products and spread the word.” Said restaurant, Morsey’s Farmhouse, finally opened in Los Altos in early 2018.
These days, the Morseys have their own 50-acre ranch outside of Sacramento with 400 water buffalo. They also have their own dairy plant on site where they make their own buffalo's milk dairy products, all of which they use and sell in their restaurant.
Once the Morseys decided to potentially open a gelato shop, they began hiring culinary consultants from Italy and Southern California to help develop their recipes. But the journey was difficult because "nobody knew how to work with buffalo milk and turn it into cream. It’s a completely different composition than cow’s milk. We failed so many times. This gelato recipe that we use now took us 3 years to make.”
They’re not skimping on their other ingredients either. Besides staying away from anything artificial, their neighbor's hive produces their shop’s honey, they roast their own Cecilian pistachios and they use premium Belgian chocolate. “But we think the gelato itself is the star,” he says.
Convincing Americans that buffalo milk is the next big thing has also been a challenge. Kal Morsey believes, “When Americans hear ‘buffalo milk’ they think gaminess. But there is absolutely no gaminess. It’s actually sweeter and creamier than cow’s milk, but not heavy. It’s the way milk should taste. And it has three times the fat content of cow’s milk, but is two-thirds lower in cholesterol. It’s also higher in protein.”
“And there’s no aftertaste,” adds Yulia. ”In the end, it’s all about taste. I don’t need to convince anybody if they just try it. You should see the reaction from people after they’ve tried the gelato. I love to see their faces.”
Since opening Morsey’s Creamery just this past August, business has been strong for their tiny shop on University Avenue in Palo Alto. And they've seen a steady yet noticeable increase every week they've been open.
For all the money and hard work the Morseys have invested, Yulia believes it’s all been worth it. “It feels like a mission and I have to share this passion. I truly believe our time is not wasted with this. People deserve to eat better. It’s hard work but even if it doesn’t work out, at least we can say we tried.”
Kal adds, “In life, you don’t always choose your path. Sometimes your path chooses you.”