A marriage of textures
Buffalo mozzarella is Italy's heavenly cheese, sliced into a Caprese or placed on a Neoplolitan pizza but burrata takes creamy to the next level.
Burrata reminds us of mozzarella and in fact is made from the famous cheese, it's shaped the same but hold that thought until you cut it open and experience the inside...
'Burro' means butter, describing its creamy, thick nature.
In 1902 a violent storm hit the rural farming area of Murgia on the high plains of Puglia. On a dairy farm near the city of Andria, cheese-making had to be halted in the precarious weather. With buckets of stracciatella at hand, industrious cheese-maker Lorenzo Bianchini solved a potential problem of wastage by encasing the soft, stringy cheese in mozzarella.
In effetti, that's what Burrata is - cream and stracciatella in a mozzarella case.
But what's stracciatella?
Yes, yes, stracciatella is gelato but it's also a Roman soup!
Stracciato means 'torn apart' or 'ripped' and stracci are strips of fabric. The Italian world stracciatella describes a texture more than a food itself. Names tend to stick through the years and in a regional country like Italy, gelato in northern Lombardia is miles away from cheese in southern Puglia, literally and figuratively.
How are soup, ice-cream and cheese similar in texture?
- Stracciatella soup alla Romana is made by dropping a mixture of egg, parsley and Parmigiano into warm chicken broth. While mixing, little scraps are created.
- Stracciatella gelato from Bergamo is white fior-di-latte ice-cream with shavings of chocolate. Romantically one could see this is ripped apart chocolate? We've all had stracciatella gelato, just think back to the texture, it does makes sense...
- Stracciatella cheese from Apulia is made from the leftover ritagli of mozzarella making. The scraps are shredded and added to thick Italian cream resulting in an incredible savoury but sweet flavour and a texture you can just imagine. Squeeze this into a mozzarella di bufala and Hey Presto!
'Burrata di Andria' is protected under PGI status, meaning true burrata is made on the wind-swept plateaus of Apulia where buffalo graze on Mediterranean grass. The cheese made here is eaten the same day. With no additives and only three ingredients: rennet, cream and salt, after 48 hours it's considered past its prime, a purist Pugliese will turn their nose up and bung it on a pizza base. That's not so say world-wide burrate aren't any good, but there's a certain pride in regional foods which always takes precedence.
Burrata-making is a beautiful thing to watch. Standing beside a massive vat of warm whey it's mesmerising... the cheese starts off as mozzarella does, rennet slowly curdles the milk as it's heated and as curds form, they're dropped into hot, salty whey and blended into an elastic blob. Artisans work the cheese, knowing exactly which consistency they're looking for. They pull, stretch and fold the curds until a stringy mozzarella texture is obtained and then, with a flick of the wrist, they break off a piece, form it into a small pouch and fill it with stracciatella. The pouch is sealed with a knot and traditionally tied with the bright green leaves of Asphodel, a hardy Mediterranean lily. Asphodel leaves cleverly multi-task as a best-before date and a method of securing the burrata. In Italian supermarkets or delis abroad, plastic 'leaves' are used, or the cheese is tied simply with green string. Sometimes the top knot is chopped off before being sold in a plastic bag of brine or salty whey which holds the burrata's spherical shape and keeps it fresher for longer.
Honestly, burrata is best eaten as is. You can add tomatoes, olives, rocket or basil, you can chop it into a salad or stir it into a risotto but the beauty of Italy's food lies in sublime ingredients, prepared simply - burrata is an example of this.
In most Italian recipes, burrata is simply placed on top of a dish, leaving the most exciting part for you.
- Risotto al pomodoro con burrata
Humble risotto made plainly from gorgeous Italian tomatoes becomes a thing of luxury. Place a couple of basil leaves and a fresh burrata on top and slice into it for the stracciatella to ooze into the rice and the mozzarella to melt.
- Pasta al pesto e burrata
Ligurian pesto stirred into penne or farfalle, topped with an entire burrata.
- Caprese di burrata
Basil leaves or rocket with sliced beefsteak tomatoes drizzled in good olive oil and balsamic vinegar form the base of this simple salad, a go-to Italian summer dish.
Burrata goes well with tomatoes, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, rocket, prosciutto crudo, figs, peperonata, grilled artichokes or red peppers.
The delicate nature of this cheese marries perfectly with bold flavours but to enjoy burrata is to experience its medley of textures, it should always create the centre-piece of your dish. Crisp white wines like Pino Grigio, Friulano or Soave take beautiful burrata to taste-bud paradise, especially under a shady tree in the height of an Italian summer.