Burrata Cheese - Have you heard of it? I can't imagine why not!
I'm sure you've heard people say, "Everything old is new again" and, "There's a difference between a fad and a classic." Usually, these statements apply to fashion and design, but I think they can also apply to food.
It seems like every year, there is an "It Food." You can't avoid this one at a 5-star restaurant or a diner. Foods that are whispered about reverently by foodies, foods that star in their own 12-page glossy magazine spreads, foods that all the television chefs are showing you how to make.
One year, the IT food was pesto. It was on everything and in everything. I'd be willing to bet that food processor sales increased that year because everyone was on the pesto train.
Don't get me wrong, I do like pesto very much. But you can only take so much of the same food before you suffer from palate fatigue.
Except for extra virgin olive oil, Rachel Ray popularized an "It" food when she created the catchphrase "EVOO." But that's for another post.
Recently, pesto is making a comeback as a way to use up parsley, cilantro, or even kale. Whir up some greens with Parmesan, some garlic, olive oil, and nuts, and you have a simple sauce that can go with pasta or even be whisked into a salad dressing.
I just read a great article about the origins of pesto so that it may be making yet another comeback as an It food, and of course, I'll be writing about it.
Another year, everyone was singing the praises of aioli. Even chain restaurants jumped on that bandwagon by blending a little garlic into their store-bought mayo. True aioli connoisseurs would sniff at such a thing, but tempers can get pretty heated when you're dealing with an It Food.
Back in the mid-90s, Rick Bayless almost singlehandedly made Mexican food--the entirety of it--an It Food. Bobby Flay did the same for Tex-Mex flavors in the late '80s and early '90s. Remember the zigzag of sauces on a plate? Credit that, too, or blame it on Bobby Flay.
A Couple of New "It Foods"
So what's this year's "It Food"? I think it's a tie between cupcakes and burrata. Everyone has heard of cupcakes and knows what they taste, but burrata?
I had just learned what it was when I had some at Vetri's the other evening in a dish with Chanterelles and watercress. I had to ask the waiter what it was.
Maybe I'm just out of the loop. I searched for "burrata cheese" and found a recipe for heirloom tomatoes and burrata cheese salad in Bon Appetit in 2006. It has been around in the US for at least five years, but I don't remember seeing that much written about it before this year.
Now I'm seeing it everywhere! I was featured in cooking magazines and restaurants at my local cheese shop. How did I miss this exquisite Italian cheese made with mozzarella and cream named after the Italian word for buttery? (Who wouldn't love a cheese whose name means buttery)?
I know it didn't arrive in America this year. Was it hiding on the shelves, or was I not looking for it? Regardless, as far as I'm concerned, burrata is the savory "It" food for 2011
So, if you're not a part of the It Food cognoscenti, let me tell you a little about burrata.
It is made in Italy, a hollow ball of mozzarella stuffed with bits of mozzarella and cream. The mozzarella bits are left over from the cheese-making process.
Buratta is wrapped in green leaves from a plant related to leeks. When you buy burrata, you know the cheese is fresh if the leaves are green and fresh. If the leaves are dried out, you know the cheese is at least past its prime. Pretty nifty, I think.
When you slice into burrata, the cream and mozzarella bits ooze out, ready to be soaked up by some crusty bread or fresh heirloom tomatoes.
Buratta is a young cheese in many ways. It is a fresh cheese that is not overly rich but milky, sweet, and creamy. And while many of Italy's world-famous cheeses have been produced for hundreds if not thousands of years, burrata was born in 1920.
A Little Buratta History
The Bianchini family invented this cheese almost certainly to minimize waste (and increase profits). The Bianchinis farmed in the Apulia district of Italy, in the heel of Italy's boot, and for years, folks who lived near the farm were the only people who could enjoy burrata. It was indeed a local product.
Eventually, some nearby factories began producing burrata to use up scraps from the mozzarella-making process. And, like all good things, eventually, word got out, and now it is exported to the United States.
But it is still a delicate cheese with a short shelf life. If you can find some, you should eat it within 48 hours of getting it home. Not that it should be a problem; it is that good.
I served my burrata cheese as part of a classic Caprese Salad with olives. As I said, they served it in a salad with chanterelles and watercress at Vetri. The burrata's sweet creaminess pairs well with earthy and/or sharp flavors, such as Vetri's chanterelles and my tomatoes and olives.
And remember the sentence, "There's a difference between a fad and a classic?" Buratta is a classic. And since it is still relatively rare in the United States, I don't think it will be going out of style--or losing its status as an It Food--any time soon.
Here's my photo recipe for Buratta Caprese Salad:
How can you go wrong with fresh tomatoes, excellent olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, and then add freshly made burrata cheese? This is a fantastic summer salad.
How they Make Burrata Video
I found this amazing video from Di Bruno Bros. VP Emilio Mignucci explaining how burrata are made at their warehouse in South Philadelphia. This is the same burrata that I purchase at my local farmers market.