Burrata: The Dumpling of Cheeses

Burrata and I have had a complicated relationship since my time in the cheese biz.

That’s because it hasn’t always sold the way it was expected, or at least hoped, to sell.

In the first cheese shop I worked at, I didn’t really understand what Burrata was. I stocked the few cases we received, it sold out, and then it would return and get stocked again. I never really gave it a second thought.

In my second cheese shop, we received copious amounts of Burrata (forced shipments that we couldn’t control) and customers just weren’t interested.

(It goes without saying that many people have no idea what Burrata is and aren’t sure how to approach it. That’s ok; that’s why there are cheesemongers. All you have to do is ask!)

While I think lacking interest generally played a role in our sad Burrata sales at that shop, that absence of interest may also have been due in large part to the limits of people’s knowledge about mozzarella’s less obvious iterations. But that also means that teachable moments arise from the oblivion that is life without Burrata.

Case in point: Sometimes people want mozzarella balls, but they accidentally get Burrata instead. That, I am sure, is a disappointing experience.

I once had a customer come up to me with a little water-filled cup of mozzarella, plop it on the counter, and coolly announce, “this is the second time I’ve returned your mozzarella because it isn’t done on the inside.”

I was flabbergasted. Done? What did she mean by done?

“I cut it open and it was all gooey like it hadn’t been cooked all the way,” the customer went on to explain, probably prompted by the look of horrified confusion on my face.

“Ohhhhhhh, you got Burrata.” “Huh?” “It’s Burrata.” “What?” “That is Burrata. It’s mozzarella filled with cream, so it’s meant to be very soft and gooey on the inside.”

While this conversation also prompts a discussion of how mozzarella is made (by heating the curd just until it melts and then stretching it, essentially), it is one example of the sad state of Burrata awareness in the greater Seattle area.

That said, I now work in a cheese shop in which Burrata practically flies off the shelves.

I actually saw a woman surreptitiously walking away from the shelf with what looked like 15 cups of Burrata the other day, all stacked up precariously and held in place under her chin. We made eye contact for a second, and she looked away quickly, almost like she was guilty for running off with so much deliciousness all at once.

But it was in my previous shop where I learned the most about Burrata, because we had to get creative to try to sample it out and convince people that yes, they wanted these little cream-filled cheese dumplings.

Because that’s essentially what you’re getting when you take home some Burrata balls: cream, shredded mozzarella, and a little salt, all ensconced in a thin sheet of mozzarella, knotted at the top and sealed up like a little white dumpling.

Burrata translates roughly into Italian as “buttery.” That’s what you get on the inside of burrata: a rich and creamy, buttery filling. The little pouches, which can be made from the milk of water buffalo or cows, ooze when you cut into them.

A specialty that hails from the southern Italian region of Puglia, Burrata is a food that screams “summer.” Straight-up mozzarella tends to get slated as a summer food, too, although both can and should be eaten year-round.

I mean, what would your fall and winter pizzas, pastas, and casseroles be without mozzarella?

But in its fresh format, mozzarella and its offshoots are great summer foods. I especially love Burrata with stone fruits like peaches and plums, on bread with jam or preserves, or alone on a cheese plate, drizzled with hot honey.

Although many connoisseurs would be aghast at the suggestion, you can put Burrata on a pizza or break it up in pasta. I can see it going just as well on a hot pasta dish as it would mixed into a cold summer pasta salad.

I brought home some Burrata the other day as a treat for surviving a 90-degree weekend in the Seattle area, which is largely devoid of air conditioning. Last night, we ate it on bread with Kelly’s Marionberry Habanero jam. This morning, I made a mango compote which I fully intend to eat over Burrata on the remaining bit of baguette.

When peaches come into season next month, there will be Burrata with peach slices and hot honey, and then Burrata with peach preserves. When the earth finally bursts forth with our annual wild blackberry harvest, you can be sure I will bake a blackberry pie and serve it with Burrata on top.

And when the 17 zucchini plants in our community garden plot are bursting with delicious summer squashes, we will have zucchini bread with burrata and peach preserves.

I can think of no better vehicle to showcase the greatness of all things seasonal in the summer than those delicious little pouches of mozzarella goodness we call Burrata.

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