Wikipedia says, "Water buffalo have been domesticated in the Philippines as far back as pre-Hispanic times and are often used by farmers in the Philippines to plow the fields and as a means of transportation. The carabao is one of the most important animals in the country, especially in agriculture. Carabao skin was once used extensively in the Philippines to create a variety of products, including the armor of pre-colonial Filipino warriors." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carabao)
Described as a patient animal, its demeanor is often associated with the Pinoys' epic ability to suffer outrageous hurts, but rampages are not uncommon, for brutalized animals. Again, the description, seems quite apt. Yet it is most useful to farmers as a beast of labor, and a meat, milk, hide, horn and bone producer. Entire cottage industries have risen in the use of carabao horn for souveniers. It can be buffed to high shine and sometimes turned into shoe horns. While the bone is often inlaid in the intricately carved woodwork traditionally produced in Bulacan.
But my favorite carabao product is still carabao milk. As a child, I loved it. They came in long necked vinegar or wine bottles corked with rolled up banana leaves. My mother mandated daily milk drinking which I did only under threat of a long and painful childhood because it meant drinking the horribly bland and (then) gag-inducing cow's millk. When my maternal grandfather realized I loved carabao milk, he bought a female calving carabao and sent the milk to me from the then hinterlands of Novaliches to our house in Cubao, just in time for breakfast of hot pandesal (also courtesy of Lolo's panaderia) and butter. He did this just to make sure I would drink milk and in his words, "Grow up smart." I love my Lolo.
Carabao milk is best suited for the normally lactose intolerant Asian stomach. It has vitamin A and D and now, it has been discovered that it reduces tumors in the breast and lungs. So, its true what they say, drinking milk, makes you strong! (http://www.bar.gov.ph/bardigest/2003/julsep03_buffalomilk.asp)
Carabao milk is richer and creamier than ordinary cow's milk and makes for wonderful desserts. Bulacan is famous for its pastillas de leche that comes in colorful wrappers of papel de hapon. A tradition of creating cut-out patterns of the wrappers' tails still exists in Bulacan, though it is fast disappearing. In Bacolod, they make the famous dulce gatas, that brown and sweet ambrosia.
But by far, for me, the best is carabao milk mozzarella, better known in these parts as kesong puti. Traditionally made in Sta. Cruz, Laguna, the milk is turned into cheese in the following manner:
"Milk is strained in cheesecloth, afterwhich it is poured into a stainless steel casserole and heated for 15 seconds. After it has been cooled in a basin of cold water, a cup of rennet and a half-cup of salt are mixed in 15 liters of milk. The white concoction is strained again to remove whey (water) for 15 minutes.
“It is then put in a big plastic pail where it is mixed thoroughly by hand until it curdled... The curds are then poured in rows of halabing (round moulds made of banana leaves) and then let stand for about ten minutes,” “Two halabing are wrapped in a piece of banana leaf, tied with straw and encased in a talulo, a squared piece of dried sheath of beetle nut tree (bunga) that holds a basta (small bundle) together.”(http://www.agribusinessweek.com/kesong-puti-santa-cruz-lagunas-white-gold/)
Nothing beats kesong puti on pan de sal, for a healthy jumpstart to your day.
Do you know that there is a Military Order of the Carabao? It was initially set up as a spoof of the pompous Order of the Dragon. "While the original spoof was real enough, the Carabao Order came to epitomize the camaraderie that grows among members of the armed forces who face the dangers and privations of extensive military service far from home. By the way, the effete Order of the Dragon was disbanded many years ago."