Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Dedication to Burrata!

Why dedicate a lengthy spin on this one cheese, Burrata? It is just about the most heavenly fresh cheese I’ve ever tasted. A most luxurious “simple cheese” and a well-off relative of the common Mozzarella. It’s best eaten by plopping in a bowl, snipping off the knot and digging into the creamy goodness with a hunk of bread or scattering the wet cheese across a salad of late harvest heirloom tomatoes that are still around at the farmers’ markets.

I touchdown at Bari, Italy, the runway surrounded by a dusty green oasis of olive trees. I revive myself with two shots of espresso after a sleepless overnight trip from New York. And fighting the jet lag, with the help of Murray’s Apulian friends, Roberto and Sabina, we visit the makers of our plump balls of Burrata.

We drive to the downtown area of the little town of Andria and walk into a tiny cheese shop. Memories of the old Murray’s come flooding back, though it’s not quite as stuffed to the gills as we’ve always been. Stepping through an ancient side door I find the cheesemaking room. Two guys elbow each other in front of three tubs waiting for their fifteen minutes of fame from the camera crew that’s trailing us.

Smooth describes the curd and the guys’ handling of it. These are old pros in making pasta filata (also known as pulled curd) cheeses. They humor us with a full demo on the making of our darling Burrata. First, animal rennet is added to pasteurized cow milk to form the curds. They are worked over on a drain table and a large bundle is immersed into extremely hot water. Pulling it like taffy, it becomes an extremely pliable, smooth cheese. This is where Burrata parts ways with Mozzarella, which would simply be tugged off in small balls from the mass of expanded curd.

After the bulge of curd is fully stretched, the cheese show really begins. Within seconds a portobello sized cap of cheese is being stuffed with a handful of gooey strands of Straciatella, to make the indulgent guts of the balls. Straciatella is a barely formed extremely fresh cheese, full of cream and delicate threads of infant mozzarella. Pulling the curd a little further, it gives enough to form a knot to hold it all in. And this is the way it goes on, six days a week, eight hours a day. Our Burrata goes straight to the airport in Rome the same day it’s made. And when it arrives in NYC on Fridays, it is still amazingly fresh with a tender exterior and interior.

The tricks go on. Treccione, a braided loaf of Mozzarella is turned out in a minute. And using a tiny pair of scissors, an innocent ball of cheese is turned into Porcellino- a miniature pasta filata elephant! Scamorza is a little bit different. Curd is treated like a square of dough, jelly rolled and then pulled. Oak chips and a brief smoking give the diminutive Scamorzina Affumicata intensity, while still holding onto its tenderness.

This month we celebrate the diversity of the pasta filata family with Caciotta, Caciocavallo, Burrata, Scamorzina, Arrotolato Farcito with Speck, Silano Affumicato and Manteca (butter filled cheese) all made by the Caseificio Olanda cheesemakers. Stop by our stores, we’ll be sampling all month!

--Sarah Zaborowski

Director of Merchandising