Cheese, Please

Gourmet Girl - August 27, 2014

America is having a Burrata Moment...

America is having a Burrata Moment. That delectable Italian cheese made with mozzarella and cream has stormed the streets of the country, from the high-end restaurants to the food trucks and grocery stores. It's everywhere, on everybody's menu, in every food magazine and blog and even in my kitchen, where I can't resist its buttery and utterly delicious taste.

We've been through this before, as a country, united in our love for the gooey French fromage, Brie in the long-ago '70s and for cheese fondue, spiked with beer or wine and served with chunks of fresh, crispy baguette, which recently had a comeback. We've also seen the rise of goat cheese, as a component of  salads, pastas and more, and of artisanal cheese, made on small farms around the country and sold in trendy boutique cheese shops.

Cheese has been popular for a very long time, dating back to 5,500 BCE in what is now Poland,  where strainers with milk fat molecules have been found.  According to ancient Greek mythology, Aristaeus discovered cheese, and Homer's “Odyssey” describes the Cyclops making cheese from sheep and goat's milk. The earliest varieties likely were sour and salty, much like feta cheese or cottage cheese.

Our newest cheese craze, burrata, dates to the early 1900s, where it was first made on the Bianchini farm in Andria, in Italy's Apulia region.  Soon, local cheese factories began producing the cheese as a way to use the scraps of mozzarella.

Burrata is just one of hundreds of types of cheese made in the world today. England has 700 distinct local cheeses and France and Italy have more than have 400 each. A French proverb holds there is a different French cheese for every day of the year, and Charles de Gaulle once queried "how can you govern a country in which there are 246 kinds of cheese?"

The U.S., the world's largest cheesemaker, produces more than a quarter of global production, followed by Germany and France. Mozzarella and cheddar are the most popular types of cheese in the U.S but, for now, burrata seems to top the list. It was traditionally wrapped in a fresh cut asphodel leaf which would indicate if the cheese was fresh by its green color. Burrata cheese in northern Italy is typically served with a pat of butter in the center.

Because it doesn't last long, burrata is best eaten within 24 hours, at room temperature. It pairs well with fresh tomatoes and olive oil, pasta, crusty bread and black pepper. Try it with thin slices prosciutto or with blanched haricot verts, the way it was eaten on HBO's “The Sopranos.” Or, enjoy it the way I do, eaten in fresh slices with nothing else but a bit of salt. Burrata is one of the best things I've ever tasted on the planet and even though it's not cheap, it's worth every gooey, delectable bite.

And speaking of cheese, don't miss the brand new Cheesemongers of Santa Fe, a cut-to-order cheese shop featuring cheese and cured meats  and specializing in small-producer and farm goods that's set to open in September at 130 E. Marcy St. At lunchtime, try their seasonal cheese-plate selections and a daily grilled cheese sandwich. They also will offe cheese classes, tastings, and culinary demonstrations with la Casa Sena Wine Shop as well as local breweries, wineries, distilleries and chefs.

Fig, Prosciutto and Burrata Salad (Seres 4; Adapted from Epicurious)

1/4 cup fig compote or jam
8 slices prosciutto
4 cups arugula
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
8 ounces burrata
2 cups quartered fresh figs

Combine fig compote with 1 tablespoon water in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, whisking occasionally, until warm and thinned slightly.

Place two slices of prosciutto on each of four serving plates.

In medium bowl, toss arugula with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Serve on individual plates, atop prosciutto.

Carefully slice and divide burrata among four plates. Scatter figs on top and  drizzle with warmed compote.

Burrata with Asparagus, Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins  (Serves 4: From “The Cheesemonger's Kitchen”)

9 ounces asparagus, trimmed
2 tablespoons golden raisins/sultanas6 threads saffron
1/2 cup best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 6-ounce rounds fresh burrata cheese

Blanch asparagus in salted boiling water 2-44 minutes, until tender. Cut on angle so it resembles penne pasta.

Soak raisins in warm water for 5 minutes then drain and pat dry. In large bowl, combine asparagus with pine nuts,  raisin, saffron, and 2 tbsp of olive oil. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Heat ¼ cup of remaining olive oil over medium heat and add bread crumbs. Shake pan vigorously while frying bread crumbs for about 1 minute, or until light golden and crisp. Remove from heat and set aside.

Cut burrata rounds in half and place on individual plates. Divide asparagus mixture among burrata and sprinkle fried bread crumbs over the top. Drizzle with remaining extra-virgin olive oil and serve.

Burrata Panna Cotta with Black Pepper Strawberries (Serves 8 ; From The Kitchy Kitchen)

3 cups heavy cream
1 cup burrata, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 1/2 packets powdered gelatin (about 3 teaspoons)
6 tablespoons cold water
2 cups strawberries, quartered
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat cream, burrata, and sugar in saucepan over medium low heat. When sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in medium-sized bowl and let stand 5-10 minutes, until it stiffens. Pour the still warm panna cotta mixture through a fine mesh strainer over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Divide the panna cotta mixture into 8 4-ounce lightly oiled ramekins, and chill in fridge until set, 2-4 hours. While panna cotta sets, mix together ingredients for the garnish, and let strawberries macerate for 1 hour, until juicy.

Run a sharp knife around the edge of each ramekin to unmold and place on a serving plate. Garnish with strawberries and juice.