Friday, September 14, 2012

Burrata Cheese

I'm late to the Burrata party. Turns out, it's been around for 80 years. The first time I tried it in 2009 at Manducatis Rustica in Long Island City, NY, I was hooked.

It's a-w-e-s-o-m-e cheese! 

Burrata means "buttered" in Italian and the cheese is essentially a soft "pouch" of mozzarella-looking cheese encasing scraps of cheese curds and cream. Does that sound wierd to you, or good to you?

At Manducatis, Gianna's vendor has it flown in fresh, wrapped in local asfodelo (plant) leaves and tied with a blade of grass. She serves it alongside pieces of pizza dough that have been baked in her wood burning brick oven. Fantastically rustic, with a drizzle of olive oil, some sea salt and cracked black pepper.

As my regular readers know, I moved to North Carolina in 2010. I've been on the lookout locally for burrata, to no avail. It's avaliable online, but I want to find it nearby. Deli's are not on every corner here, nor are there mailboxes. I tracked down an Italian Deli (owned by a former fellow Queens, NYer.)  This one is 10+ miles away, and I thought I'd struck gold until he said he'd never heard of burrata. What? I'm Irish/German, and he's never heard of burrata? He must not be from Apulia or Basilicata, the southern regions from where burrata originates.

Small cities often lag behind a bit in the availability of "unusual" foods, but they do make their way here. In a summer 2010 blog post, I wrote that I couldn't find panko bread crumbs in the grocery store! A chef from the restaurant next door was in the aisle and he said I'd have to go to the International Food specialty store. To save time, he told me to go next door, and he gave me a ziploc bag full of Panko. So thoughtful! Now, panko is in every grocery store, not just the specialty shops. I've had to dull my "cutting edge" and "oh, why don't you have that?" a bit~~which is challenging for a recovering Type A NewYorker.

I went out to dinner recently at Wolfgang Puck's Pizza Bar in South Park, Charlotte and bingo...burrata was on the menu! An orb of bright white, runny cheese-y perfection, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and served with prosciutto, arugula and grilled bread rubbed with garlic. Yum! A wonderful appy for 2-3 to share for $14.

After that, my antenna shot up again. No luck at the grocery store. Whole Foods hadn't had it's grand opening yet. I tried the "pasta and provisions" store, and they said they used to carry it but there was no demand, and the minimum order was too big to make sense for them. Grrr.

Lo and behold, I found it sitting on the shelf at Trader Joe's. Has it been here, just down the road, all this time? I asked about it and was told that they've had it for awhile, but it's not always in stock.

Trader Joe's burrata 

For burrata that's flown in fresh, the shelf life is very short (about 48 hours) and freshness is defined by the bright green asfodelo leaf wrapper.

Trader Joe's does not reveal it's sub-contracted manufacturers. The cheese (made in California) is sold in an 8oz tub, with two 4-oz portions, floating in brine, for $4.99. That's a bargain, for about 4 servings! The ingredients list is very short, and the "use by" date is about a week into the future.

Review? Based on my limited experience and less than scientific comparison of 3 sources: Manducati's, Wolfgang Puck's and Trader Joe's...the latter (2?) may not be the "real thing," but they are a close 2nd. I was worried that the cheese would be too hard, but it's nice and soft! When I cut into it, the middle was creamy and pretty close in texture to the one served at Manducatis Rustica. Oh, the plans I have for you, burrata! Porch parties, a little nibble, baked into a pizza, caprese salad....

The ever-so-slightly sweet cheese serves as a blank canvas for so many flavorful accompaniments:

Your best olive oil for drizzling
Grated lemon rind
Bacon, or lardons, or prosciutto
Sundried Tomatoes (sliced into matchsticks)
Olives, or olive tapenade
Basil or other fresh herbs
Balsamic vinegar
Heirloom or beefsteak or cherry or roma tomatoes...sliced, or roasted
Carmelized shallots or onions or figs
Tomato jam
Pepper jelly
Toasted or grilled bread
Roasted garlic....etc...

Feel free to add to the list---I'd love to hear where you've had it (restaurant), or where you found it (retail) and how you serve it!

I'm late to the party, but I'm going to hang out for awhile.

Life is good~~Level and Plumb.

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