BURRATA is written on the window of every fromagerie in Paris, it seems, enticing customers inside with its luscious siren call. For burrata, a tender milky cheese wrapped around cream, is the height of decadence.
Response to a Crisis
What is decadent today, though, was a response to crisis on a farm in Puglia, located in the heart of the heel of Italy’s boot, sometime between the 1920’s and ‘30s. Then, Signore Lorenzo Bianchino was milking his cows as he watched the snow fall so hard it gradually snowed him in. He made his silken mozzarella, worrying about how he would keep the cream and butter he was also known for fresh and sweet until he could deliver to his customers.
Wrap Cream in Cheese
His solution was to take scraps of mozzarella, combine them with fresh top cream and, some say, butter, and wrap them inside balls of his cheese, tying them off with a knot. He hoped for the best, and the best is what he’d created, for when the roads cleared, he had a new product to sell.
Al Fornello da Ricci
I first tasted burrata at one of the finest restaurants in all of Italy, Al Fornella da Ricci, some years ago and before it was an international sensation. There, Chef Dora Ricci served me braised greens topped by small balls of what I thought was mozzarella. Until I sliced them open, with her and her daughter Antonella looking on. Out of the center of each cheese ran a thick river of cream and when I tasted it, I was forever hooked by its magic, and those tiny burratini will forever be my standard for this wonderful cheese.
I love to see what French chefs do with burrata and in general they treat it with respect, getting out of its way. At Café Varenne in Paris’ 7th arrondissement I couldn’t resist trying their Salade de Tomates au Burrata as a main course the other night, and they’d followed suit, presenting a big ball anointed with pesto, sitting on elegantly thin slices of heirloom tomatoes.
I recreated this for you here in a dish which will stop the conversation with its glorious simplicity and elegant casualness. Make your pesto first, then serve it as a garnish here. It’s as simple and felicitous combination of Italian ingenuity and French interpretation, particularly with fresh baguette to sop up the delicious juices that result!