Recently while out for a girlsâ€™ night dinner, my friend encouraged me to order the burrata. It sounded intriguing, but I was still surprised by what actually arrived: a puffy little football filled with creamy cheese, which then spilled out into delicious gooeyness. It sent me down a rabbit hole.
I am relatively new to burrata, even though itâ€™s been around for nearly a century. The Oxford Companion To Cheese says it originated in Pugliaâ€”the heel of the Italian bootâ€”sometime in the 1920s. Still, lately I feel like Iâ€™m seeing it everywhere, from being the star of a popular pizza YouTube video to a key component in the burrata-peach-arugula salad at my favorite neighborhood restaurant. So what exactly is burrata? I set out to learn more.
Hereâ€™s a hint: burrata means â€œbutter,â€_x009d_ an indicator that itâ€™s one of the creamiest members of the Italian cheese family. This Culinary Institute Of America YouTube video describes it as â€œrecently been discovered in America,â€_x009d_ and explains that mozzarella is a pasta filata cheese, or a stretched- or strained-curd cheese. To make mozzarella, the mozzarella curd is stretched to form into a ball or whatever shape you like. To make burrata, that same stretchy curd is filled with a mixture of chopped up mozzarella scraps and cream called stracciatella, then tied with a knot on the top.
Said Lisa Futterman, manager of wholesale accounts at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine, a popular cheese shop in Chicago: â€œSo you get this outside coating of mozzarella stretched around more delicious creamy mozzarella.â€_x009d_ Wow. No wonder burrata is having a moment. The reveal when the interior cheese oozes out of the exterior cheese is truly a showstopper. And burrata also has a shelf life of only about 48 hours, which makes it even more of an exclusive delicacy.
Still, once the province of only restauranteurs, burrata has been recruited into peopleâ€™s at-home cheese arsenals. If youâ€™re looking for your own burrata, itâ€™s probably worth the trip to a high-end or specialty grocer to make sure youâ€™re getting a high-quality version thatâ€™s not made by a machine. I for one would be thrilled if someone brought a platter of this out at a dinner partyâ€”and Iâ€™m already making plans for it at my next book club. But whatâ€™s the best way to show off burrata? Do I have to smush it on top of a pizza like in that video?
Futterman advises: â€œI think the best way to use it is to serve it whole and serve it with accompaniments that it will be fun to eat with.â€_x009d_ So make a platter with your favorite add-ons, like roasted peppers, prosciutto, pesto, tapenade, and of course, crusty bread. â€œThen at the table, everyone breaks into the burrata with their different spreads and accompaniments and you have this wonderful interactive cheese experience.â€_x009d_ Futterman is apparently unafraid of germs or double-dippers, but I have to admit that sounds like a fun appetizer activity.
Iâ€™ve seen burrata presented in a variety of different ways in restaurants, though. The Oxford Companion To Cheese advises, â€œIts mild, lactic creamy flavors benefit from simple pairings with fresh vegetables and fruits, and it works well on gourmet pizzas and on light pasta dishes.â€_x009d_ So you could also make a late-summer salad with tomatoes, black pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh herb. If you really want to try the burrata for a warm main course, go ahead and smear some on top of a margarita pizza with some fresh basil. Or serve it on top of fresh tomato-sauced pasta, tossing it with some extra virgin olive oil.
Basically, burrata offers a ton of panache (along with quite a bit of deliciousness) with little effort beyond going out and buying it and setting up a nice platter. I canâ€™t wait to try this out at that book-club meeting, although I may have to experiment with a variety of different burrata adds beforehand to create my own perfect combo: Olives and prosciutto? Dried apricots and smoked almonds? Pesto and crusty bread? Looks like Iâ€™ll just have to try them all.