For those like me who are food obsessed, the Italian region of Puglia in the south of Italy is a gold mine. Often called the breadbasket of Italy, the region is known for rich, spicy olive oils, lamb, specialty pastas and prized fresh cheese.
Puglia is also home to rich, flavourful burrata cheese, one of my favourite treats. Burrata, buttery in Italian, is made from fresh cow’s milk, which is heated to make mozzarella curds. These are combined with hot whey and then stretched and pulled and eventually formed into a ball, the middle of which is filled with stracciatella, essentially stringy mozzarella curds combined with cream. The outer cheese is then pulled over the creamy centre and twisted into a small top knot. When you slice into the cheese, the creamy interior spurts out. Messy but delicious. Originally created in the 1950s to use up scraps of mozzarella, it has become one of the world’s best fresh cheeses.
As with all fresh cheese, burrata should be served as soon as possible once it’s made, otherwise it loses taste and texture. Cheeses flown in from Italy will not be as fresh as our homegrown products unless they were made within three days. For guaranteed freshness, try Canadian cheeses made in the traditional style with water buffalo milk by Quality Cheese under the brand Bella Casara in Ontario.
My favourite way to serve burrata is with fresh-picked, juicy tomatoes, great olive oil, salt and lots of sliced basil. When tomato season is finished, I like it served with fresh grilled zucchini or grilled figs and rosemary. It is also wonderful torn over caponata. Try it tossed with new potatoes or grilled vegetables just before serving.
The other fresh cheese from Southern Italy is buffalo mozzarella. It holds its shape when raw, but melts with great appeal when cooked. Authentic buffalo mozzarella – Mozzarella di Bufala Campana – is now safeguarded under the European Union’s protected designation of origin (PDO) laws.
Water buffalo milk is much fattier and richer than the milk of dairy cows, which means it’s ideal for making cheese. The cheese is porcelain white, has a smooth shiny surface and a slightly acidic taste. It has more flavour than cow’s milk mozzarella and is a treat to eat. There is an Ontario-made version, also by Bella Casara, that is slightly sweeter than the Italian one. Natural Pastures Cheese Company in British Columbia produces buffalo mozzarella for the West Coast.
Try buffalo mozzarella torn into a salad with tomatoes, scattered on pizza or layered into a lasagna. In winter, I slow roast tomatoes to get maximum flavour and then serve with the mozzarella.
Store these cheeses in the refrigerator, covered in their brine. They will keep for two or three days.
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