I want to talk about burrata today. Burrata is a soft Italian cheese. It comes in balls similar to mozzarella, but it has a soft interior that oozes around inside its cheesy casing. It is one of the 7 wonders of my culinary world. It’s an Italian cheese and a specialty of Puglia, a smallish region in the heel of Italy’s boot. It is as close to perfection as anything that exists.
Though oddly, it is rather new gastronomically speaking. Being an Italian product, you might assume it was part of some ancient cheese-making tradition. But actually, it is a modern invention. Lorenzo Bianchino Chieppa developed burrata in the 1920s; the source I read says that “[He] had the idea to create a kind of flask of cheese for preserving a mixture of cream and cheese in the center.”
Despite its might, burrata is not commonly found outside of Puglia, even in Italy. Though it seems, as its popularity here in the United States grows, there has become greater demand for this cheese all over Italy.
Because of its rather short shelf life — about two weeks â€“ itâ€™s sadly quite difficult to find at most markets. Fortunately, Los Angeles has found a way to keep its citizens “fat and happy” when it comes to these perishable specialties. There is a company here called Girardi, making these Italian cheeses and supplying them to top restaurants and a few specialty stores. Besides burrata, they also make excellent ricotta as well as burrata’s cousin and forbearer, mozzarella.
But let’s be clear: burrata is not mozzarella. Sure they share some characteristics, but comparing burrata to mozzarella is like calling a truffle a black mushroom.
Technically, there are similarities. But burrata is more like newborn mozzarella wrapped in full-fledged mozzarella. The exterior skin is chewy like true mozzarella, but the soft, barely formed curds that float within that skin are silky smooth and swimming in cream.
The flavor of good fresh burrata is sweet like the freshest milk imaginable. But like all good dairy the enzymes give this sweetness a slightly sour tang; much more complex than creme fraiche because there are delicate floral nuances too.
But it is the dichotomy of textures that makes real burrata so special. Silky, chewy, creamy, coarse, smooth, and rich. There is nothing in food-dom quite the same as slicing into an impeccably made, fresh ball of burrata. Watching it bloom in slow motion as the luxurious curds slide like lava from beneath the elastic outer envelope.
All this cheese needs is the slightly acerbic bite of the very best olive oil with a nip of good sea salt. The combination of tastes and textures is both elementary and complex. It is a wonderful way to quietly enjoy burrata all on your own, while still wrapped in paper from the cheese shop.
But something this special needs to be shared. So I am teaming my one-pound ball of burrata with excellent tomatoes and a handmade basil pesto sauce. ll certainly bring excellent olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper to the table too. This way, my guests will have options as we sit outside enjoying a simple meal that honors the passage from summer to autumn.
Tomatoes with Burrata SERVES 6
- 3 T pine nuts
- 3 clv garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1/4 c basil leaves, torn into pieces
- 1/4 Italian parsley, leaves only
- 1 t kosher salt
- 1/4 pn parmigiano-reggiano, grated
- 1 T fresh lemon juice
- 1 lb tomatoes, assorted varieties, sizes, and textures
- 1 lb burrata
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 c very good olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread pine nuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool.
2. Using a mortar and pestle, pulverize the pine nuts, garlic, basil, parsley, and salt into a smooth paste. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, mixing well to incorporate. Just before serving, season with lemon juice and additional salt to taste. Set aside. Makes three-fourths cup.
1. Cut the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Vary the sizes and shapes according to the the shape of each tomato to achieve a lot of variety, some slices, some chunks, small grapes or cherries left whole. Arrange the tomatoes on a serving platter. Sprinkle generously with salt and black pepper.
2. Using a sharp knife make a small x shaped incision on the top of the burrata ball. Gently peel back the skin a bit to expose the soft interior. Place the cheese in the middle of the tomatoes.
3. Drizzle the tomatoes with the reserved pesto, garnish the cheese with more olive oil, salt, and pepper and serve immediately.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD