If you do not count the wine and the olive oil, dinner last night consisted of just two items: bread and cheese. The bread, an excellent olive loaf, was gotten from the Standard Baking Company here in Portland. For the cheese, there was a bit more travel involved.
See, I drove back from Queens yesterday morning, a trip designed to celebrate my brother Joe's birthday in gluttonous fashion (a success, I might add; I'm still stuffed). Just behind the driver's seat and next to the dog was a cooler. Inside the cooler was, among other things, a plastic container holding a ball of burrata wrapped in green leaf-like plastic and immersed in whey. I bought the cheese in Brooklyn on Saturday, but the day before that it was in the burrata-making capital of the world, the Puglia region of Italy.
I don't know why but this cheese has attracted quite the following of late. In the past few months alone, and right here in Maine, I have sampled burrata from both a California cheesemaker and, more recently, one in Vermont. Why it has taken so long for the cheese to draw attention here in the U.S. I cannot say. A well-made burrata is one of the finest things that you will ever eat.
Basically, burrata is a ball made of thinly stretched mozzarella on the outside and a mixture of curd and fresh cream on the inside. Though it used to be made with milk from water buffalo, now it's mostly cow's milk that is used. (Traditionally burrata is wrapped in the leaves of the asphodelus plant, not the plastic you see above.)
In Italy burrata is eaten within a day or two of its manufacture. Though the cheese I bought on Saturday would have been okay to eat for about a week, I wanted to have at it as soon as I got home, which would put it at just three days from the time it was made.
To make things interesting I decided to do a little cheese flight of my own. I stopped by my local Italian grocery and picked up a burrata made in Vermont, from Maplebrook Farm in Bennington, to taste side-by-side with the Italian version. Maplebrook takes some pride in its hiring of an Italian cheesemaker to make its burrata, and I have found the product to be pretty good since becoming available up here a few months ago.
The cheese on the left is from Italy (via D. Coluccio & Sons in Brooklyn), the one on the right from Vermont. Other than the shape you'd be hard pressed to tell the two apart at this point. It's when you cut into them that the differences become very apparent.
This is the cheese from Puglia. The outside layer of mozzarella is thin and delicate, the inside rich and voluptuously creamy. Look at how that rich, unctuous cream oozes from the ball when it's cut open. Taste? It's like eating thick cream-flavored velvet. There is just absolutely nothing like it.
Here is the Vermont-made cheese. Different story entirely. The outer shell of mozzarella is much stiffer and more chewy than the Italian cheese. The center, though moist and creamy, is far more solid as well. The creaminess factor is entirely different. Not only does cream not ooze out; whatever moisture is released is much more whey-like. As for the taste, it is a little on the sour side (but in a good way), and not nearly as luscious.
This is how I eat burrata, topped with a good extra virgin olive oil and some sea salt and fresh ground pepper. The cheese shown here is the one from Puglia, and so I guess you now know which of the two I preferred.
Some things are worth going out of your way for.