Audrey Hitchcock Interview: Finds Her Passion Making Buffalo Mozzarella
Diana Landau | July 12, 2022
This month Carl interviews architectural designer/ranch owner/cheesemaker Audrey Hitchcock. Audrey and her husband Craig Ramini did not hatch their Second Act plan until they were in their 40's. Audrey, who has a successful career designing high-end homes and restaurants, didn't set out to become a pioneer mozzarella di bufala maker in the U.S. Her path is a love story to her late husband, to her water buffalo, and to finding her life's purpose.
Audrey grew up in Massachusetts. Her parents divorced when she was 7 and the family went from middle class to food stamps. Both she and Carl acknowledged that when your parents divorce, it greatly affects your life. In high school she was very active, participating in sports, theater and Girl Scouts. "I wanted to grow up to be Jane Goodall, or live like the People in "Born Free" in Africa."
While earning her BA at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, she met her future husband, Craig Ramini. After years of studying in London, Audrey and Craig then decided to move to San Francisco. She worked as a designer and Craig had a high-tech career in Silicon Valley--which he hated. Craig decided to try something entirely new and took some time off to explore his core values. He wanted to work with animals, become an entrepreneur, and he loved food. This led him to learn from cheesemakers in Italy and Australia. The couple bought 5 water buffalo in 2009 and began making highly-desired Mozzarella di Bufalo, as one of the only dairies producing the product in the country.
Water buffalo are not like dairy cows. They are intelligent, loving and affectionate, much like dogs. Audrey and Craig named their animals after rock stars and singers, so the herd includes Grace Slick, Joan Jett, Annie Lennox, Pat Benatar--and today they have Taylor Swift and Beyonce on the ranch too. By 2013 Audrey and Craig were successfully raising a large herd and selling their hand-pulled mozzarella and ricotta to high-end restaurants and grocery stores. Tragically, Craig was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and he died in 2014.
Even though most people told Audrey she was crazy to keep going, she did--managing her design career and the ranch at the same time. She pressed on, building up the business which today includes 12-15 restaurant and winery customers, 10 grocery stores and 8 farmer's markets. Audrey expanded the occasional ranch tours to every weekend, drawing 65-85 people per tour. (Did we mention you get to pet the gentle, 1600 lb. water buffalo? Did we also mention the Bufalo di Mozzarella is really, really good!! And that their cheese is higher in protein yet half the cholesterol of cow's milk?) Audrey says, "Everyone experiences grief in a different way. The animals are my family."
Audrey's advice on starting Second Acts:
"Passion, love and purpose--it's why I work as hard as I do. Start with passion and love what you're doing. Find your purpose. This isn't about making lovely mozzarella and hanging out with the water buffalo. I also want to make a contribution to the world."
"Map out your (Second Act) business plan. Research every aspect of it. You'll have a better chance at smooth sailing if you plan ahead."
"Craig knew he was going to have to re-write the traditional dairy business model. Be fearless!"
Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the “I Used to Be Somebody” blog.