Move over, mozzarella. Burrata—a cheese that most Americans had never heard of a decade ago—is summer’s breakout star. I know that from restaurant menus, from observing grocery carts and from these stats from Di Stefano Cheese, the Southern California burrata producer whose product I adore:
Employees in 2009 (year founded): 2
Employees by the end of 2016: 100
Daily output in 2009: 100 pounds
Daily output in 2016: 13,000 pounds
Distribution in 2009: California, Nevada, New York, New Jersey
Distribution in 2016: U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Singapore
Stefano Bruno, who was 18 when he started the business, is now all of 25. The payroll today includes his mother, father and two younger brothers. A third brother is too young to employ but hangs around.
Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Stefano’s father, Mimmo, introduced burrata to the U.S. A native of Puglia, burrata’s home base, Mimmo has been making cheese commercially since he was 12. In his twenties, he moved from Italy to Los Angeles, started Gioia Cheese with a partner 20 years ago and began trying to find customers for a cheese that nobody knew. Nancy Silverton, then chef-owner at Campanile in Los Angeles, fell in love with the Gioia burrata and that was that. San Francisco’s A-16 also put it on the menu—with olive oil, sea salt and crostini—and it has never come off. Mimmo later split with his partner and helped launch his son’s enterprise.
When I first interviewed Stefano, in 2009, the company was importing its cream from Italy. (As everyone knows by now, burrata is a mozzarella pouch stuffed with mozzarella shreds and cream.) Even the high-butterfat manufacturing cream was too thin and bland compared to thick Italian panna, Stefano told me then.
Today, Di Stefano gets its cream from a nearby farmer. The cream is thickened with citric acid and a starter culture, then combined with shredded mozzarella. No wonder the filling tastes like heaven. It’s basically mozzarella mixed with mascarpone.
To my taste, it’s hard to improve on burrata served the A-16 way: extra virgin olive oil, coarse salt, maybe a few grinds of black pepper. Change it up with smoked salt, truffle salt or some of the other fun salts in spice shops today.
Fried Green Tomato and Burrata Caprese
This tantalizing dish (pictured at top) from Napa Valley chef Sarah Scott dresses up burrata for company. Accompany with rosé, Sauvignon Blanc or a brisk Southern Italian white wine like Feudi di San Gregorio's Falanghina.
- 1 tablespoon finely minced shallots
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- Kosher or sea salt
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon minced chives
- Zest of 1 lemon, finely minced
- ½ basket mixed cherry tomatoes, quartered
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1 cup panko crumbs
- Twelve ½-inch-thick slices green tomato (from 4 medium tomatoes)
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 8 ounces burrata, in 8 pieces
Combine the shallots, vinegar, lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon of salt in a bowl. Make sure the shallots are submerged in the vinegar and lemon juice. Let sit for at least 15 minutes. Whisk in the olive oil, chives and lemon zest. Add the cherry tomatoes and stir gently.
Place the flour in a small bowl and mix with ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper. Place the buttermilk in a small bowl and mix with ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper. Place the panko in a medium bowl and mix with ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper.
Preheat an oven to the lowest setting. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Coat a slice of green tomato on both sides with flour, shaking off any excess. Dip into the buttermilk, coating both sides, then coat evenly with panko, shaking off any excess. Place the breaded slice on the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining tomato slices.
Place a cooling rack inside a baking sheet. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium- high heat. When the oil is hot, add the tomato slices in batches, being careful not to crowd them. Cook until golden brown on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes, then turn and continue cooking until golden brown on the other side, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer to the rack and hold in the warm oven until ready to serve.
To serve, alternate slices of tomato and burrata on each of 4 salad plates. Top with a generous spoonful of the marinated cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of salt.