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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Burrata: Little bag, big cheese

Is there such thing as a "Perfect Summer Cheese" ??? I think there is. To me, there is no better time to enjoy fresh Burrata than mid to late summer. Why? Two words. Heirloom Tomatoes. Right now I have plates stacked with them scattered around the house in various "cooler than the kitchen" locations, trying desperately to keep them fresh and beautiful as long as I can. Today I will make use of a good number of them. There is Burrata in my fridge.

Burrata is hard to find, (around here anyway) has a very short lifespan, and isn't cheap; but its worth every bit of effort required to obtain it. So what exactly is it? Well, you know what Fresh Mozzarella is, right? Let's start there. Back in the 1920's, in the Puglia region of Italy (think the heel of the boot) a cheesemaker named Lorenzo Bianchino Chieppa found an inventive new way to use the scraps of cheese left over from making his Mozzarella Fresca. When mozzarella is made, the fresh curds are placed into hot whey, and kneaded by hand to develop that wonderfully stretchy texture (pasta filata). At this point, instead of just making a nice little ball, the cheese is formed into a small bag which is then stuffed with scraps of the mozzarella curd (called stracciatelle, meaning "rags" in Italian) and topped with fresh cream. The bag is then tied shut. Traditionally the cheese would then be wrapped in Asphodelo leaves. It is said that the time it takes for the leaves to turn brown and dry out is the same amount of time the cheese is fresh. Today, most Burrata (especially that which is meant for export) is wrapped in a small plastic bag. Also, Burrata like traditional Mozzarella is made from Water Buffalo milk. It is now commonly made with cow's milk.

So how should you serve it? I like to keep it simple. The rich creamy complexity of the cheese shouldn't be covered up. Sliced tomato, some good olive oil and some freshly cracked pepper & sea salt. Don't forget some crusty bread for sopping up the cream! One thing to remember about Burrata though, is once you have cut into it (and all of the delicious contents have spilled out) it should be eaten as soon as possible. If you don't plan on finishing it in one sitting, be sure to use it within 24 hours. While still in the package, the cheese has a total shelf-life of about 7 days.

A word of warning: This is one of those cheeses where I say "If you're going to do it, do it right". You can occasionally find some mass produced American versions around (I know Belgioso makes one that is really unimpressive...) but I suggest trying to find what I like to call "the good stuff!" It really isn't the same. That isn't to say that there are no great American -made versions out there, but just like any other cheese, consider the producer. Gioia Cheese Co. in California makes a lovely one.

So....what to drink??? The cheese itself will pair happily with a full-bodied white, such as Semillon or Burgundy, or a light red like Dolcetto or Sangiovese. With the tomatoes a slightly more acidic Pinot Grigio would work as well.

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