Burrata with balsamico, prosciutto, and grilled radicchio graces tables at Poggio.
Staffan Terje, chef at San Francisco’s thriving Perbacco Ristorante (www.perbaccosf.com), remembers his first taste of burrata cheese in Rome 10 years ago.
"The chef put it on a plate with a little arugula," he says. "That first bite—I could have died right then and there and been a happy man."
Burrata is a close and very young cousin of classic Italian mozzarella. To produce it, cheese makers stretch a thin layer of fresh mozzarella curd around a pillowy blend of cream and still more mozzarella curds called stracciatelle, or "little rags" in Italian. Presto—burrata.
Sweet, creamy, and delicately textured, the cheese is irresistible, or so say the chefs and diners who have made it the formaggio del giorno around the West.
The trend began in Southern California, where Gioia Cheese Company makes a domestic version that many chefs buy; others serve an Italian import.
"I tried burrata and thought, Holy mackerel, I want to eat more of this," says chef Peter McNee of Poggio in Sausalito (www.poggiotrattoria.com) "Since we were already working with hand-pulled mozzarella, I said I’m not going to put burrata on the menu until we can make it. It was just a matter of fooling with the techniques until we got it right." McNee now pairs his house-made burrata with seasonal accompaniments, as does Perbacco’s Terje.
Many chefs serve the cheese as a starter, showcasing its gentle flavor and supple texture. At San Francisco’s bustling A16 (www.a16sf.com), Gioia burrata—sent out with just olive oil, sea salt, and some crunchy crostini—is the most popular appetizer. Many menus present the cheese only as a special, thanks to its short shelf life. Chef-owner Rick Mahan of Sacramento’s Waterboy (www.waterboyrestaurant.com) offers an occasional burrata appetizer with arugula and cherry tomatoes. At Las Vegas’s Spiedini Ristorante (www.spiedini.com), owner Gustav Mauler features it as part of a weekends-only heirloom tomato salad cradled in a crisp Parmesan basket.
Others have cast it in new roles. Stephen Kalt, chef at Corsa Cucina in Las Vegas (www.wynnlasvegas.com), layers burrata with roasted tomatoes in eggplant parmigiana.
"Most people use burrata fresh," Kalt says. "But when you gently bake it and let it melt a bit, it has a wonderful creaminess that goes beyond what mozzarella can do on its own."
That devotee’s attitude is echoed by Poggio’s McNee. "I don’t want to go through life without burrata," he says.
Photography by Lori Eanes
This article was first published in March 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.