Burrata: We Handmake Mozzarella’s Creamy Cousin at DeLaurenti in Pike Place Market
I have had a serious love affair with DeLaurenti in Pike Place Market for quite some time now; it’s the only shop I enter in Seattle and feel a semblance of being back in the land of prosciutto and Gucci (though I do have to ignore many of the uber-American tourists who frequent the market wearing tennis shoes and fanny packs if I want to retain my reverie). It started when I moved back to Seattle from Torino a few years ago and went on the hunt for bresaola- the most amazing air-cured beef. In Italy I had eaten it by the etto, almost daily and with reckless abandon. One of the many things I forgot to factor into my homecoming was the utter absence of bresaola available on stateside soil. After searching high and low to no avail, DeLaurenti came gleaming onto my radar like a beacon of brilliance. They handily solved the first of what would become many gustatory jonesings, and I fell in love.
This summer I went on a big gelato-making jag, and DeLaurenti was the only place in town that carried the super-top-secret-amazing-melt-in-your-mouth-ingredient I needed to make my pistachio flavor pop. They have become my go-to for everything from Marcona almonds to Valrhona chocolate. When I discovered a while ago that they occasionally make their own burrata should the demand arise, my love affair went to a whole new level and I instantly vowed for better or worse, til death do us part. Burrata, a cheese that consists of a mozzarella shell that encases the most amazing creamy-ooziness in the core once you slice it open, is the stuff from which dreams are made. It should literally become global currency, transcending the euro and the yen faster than you can slip in a mouthful and beg for more.
Because I was surely overly-salivacious one time when begging Matt Snyder, manager of DeLaurenti, to go and see if there was any burrata lying around in back, he decided to take pity on me and introduce me to DeLaurenti’s resident cheese impresario, Shane Wahlund. Shane is essentially a genius of formaggi filati, or spun cheeses, of which mozzarella is probably the most common. While Shane was regaling me with stories of how awesome he is at mozzarella-making, I was kicking the floor thinking about my several failed forays into that realm; one ending in a sticky chewed-gumball mess of mozza, and another a soggy pile of overheated cheese curds that made the kitchen smell like century-old boiled eggs. I think he must have taken pity on dejected little me, because he mentioned that he might be willing to teach a lesson on the art of spinning and forming the burrata. My mood instantly leapt through the roof, and we exchanged emails, me the eager young Padawan to his Jedi master ways.
When the time came to plunge wholeheartedly into balls of gleaming burrata, I brought along a posse of four as back-up, and so between all of us we’d hopefully remember everything. Shane greeted us with only one warning, “I hope you don’t mind putting your hands in extremely hot water.” Well we were a bit of a raucous crew, so we tried to invent funny little double-entendres that he might be implying by this statement, but he literally wanted us to immerse our mitts into 160° water, so we did as we were told and we made the most pristine balls you’d ever see. Shane was kind enough to share the burrata instructions with us, which I’ll include at the end of this post in case you’re feeling adventurous.
DeLaurenti gets their mozzarella curd, which is the basis for both mozzarella and burrata, from Grande, a Wisconsin specialty cheese manufacturer. They come in 10 pound pillows, which would be enough to make quite a few burrata balls. We used less than half a pillow and were able to take home five glistening beggar’s purses of goodness with much to spare. Mozzarella or burrata-making would be a fantastic party idea- just order a pillow of curd from DeLaurenti, invite over 10 of your closest friends and let the wine flow freely. Getting to eat the fruits of your labors at the end of a party is infinitely better than going home with useless Tupperware, janky Mary Kay makeup, a bedazzled baby onesie, or whatever else people are coming up with for themed take-something-home parties these days.
The primary reason that burrata is so scarcely available outside Italy is that it is extremely perishable. I have noticed that its growing popularity has led to some larger cheese producers like Bel Gioioso trying to package and preserve it for longer shelf life at places like Whole Foods and PCC, but I would caution you to try those products with a literal and figurative grain of salt. If it’s not highly perishable it’s just not real burrata, and will lack the complex flavor and texture necessary to take you to proverbial oral orgasm-land. For that reason, I planned a dinner of all things burrata that evening so we could taste our goodie-balls the way they were intended to be eaten- within a few hours. Watch for the next entry, where I’ll detail the dinner that was so good no one spoke.
Immensely profound thanks and eternal gratitude go to Shane, Matt and everyone at DeLaurenti, both for giving us fish (burrata, in this case) and teaching us to fish (the instructions reprinted below) so we’re set for life.
• Begin by filling a large pot with an amount of water that is proportionate to the amount of curd with which you are working. Generally, 1 gallon of water per 3 pounds of curd is sufficient. Error on the side of excess. It’s better to have too much water than too little.
• Salt water using approximately 1 cup of salt per 1 gallon of water – more or less to taste. Heat water over medium high and continue preparation.
• Fill large 3-4” deep water pan or similarly shaped rectangular receptacle approximately half full with cool tap water.
• Set aside a small bowl measuring approximately 2-3 inches in depth and about 3-4 inches in diameter. Also, set aside, cheese cloth (cut into approx. 6″ by 6″ squares,) twist ties and plastic baggies or plastic wrap in which burrata will be housed once they are formed. Large non-zipping sandwich bags or plastic wrap cut into 1′x1′ squares will work. Place baggies in open position so they are ready to place the finished cheese into.
• In a large saute pan, begin heating heavy whipping cream over medium heat. The amount of heavy cream needed will depend on how many and how large a burrata you wish to make. Generally, 1/2 cup of cream per 1/2 # of curd is sufficient to yield 1 burrrata of 8-9 oz.
• The cream must be stirred and temperature monitored while other preparations are being made. Do not scald the cream. If the cream starts to roll to a boil, immediately turn down to a simmer. Intermittently stir the cream gently in a zig-zag fashion being sure to constantly scrape the bottom and edges of the pan to release those wonderful buttery flecks.
• Heavy cream should be reduced by approximately 1/3 to 1/2 its volume. Once it has thickened and obtained an off-white buttery hue, remove from heat and transfer into a small bowl or 2-4 cup glass measuring cup. Set aside.
• Place desired amount of curd onto clean cutting board and dice finely into 1/4” cubes. Dicing does not have to be neat but it must remain fine or the curd will not melt evenly. Squeeze a piece of curd between fingers and note the consistency. It should feel springy almost like a soft piece of rubber. Transfer cut curd into a large bowl and set aside. It’s a good idea to not work with too much curd at once. If working with larger amounts consider working with no more than 2-3 pounds per batch.
• Monitor water temperature throughout process. When water reaches approximately 170 F, turn burner down to low and maintain temperature. Appropriate water temperature will vary slightly depending on size of batch. If temperature is too hot the curd will become too soft and gooey to form a shape; if it’s not hot enough the curd will not melt enough to smoothly shape. Anything over 170 F is hot enough to scald so be careful.
• In a separate bowl (a wide stainless steal one works great) place a handful of diced curd and, with a large pitcher or measuring cup, scoop heated water out of pot and poor over curd in bowl, submerging it. This curd is just for incorporating into the reduced cream, about 1/2 cup per cup of reduced cream; it’s there to give the creamy interior or the burrata a bit more body.
• After a minute or two, dump the water and submerge the curd in a second bath until it has become fully melted and easily forms into once smooth shape. Remove the curd from water and quickly shred or chop into tiny bits adding them to the semi-cooled reduced cream. Stir and set aside.
• In same bowl, now empty, place an amount of curd that comfortably fits between cupped hands (about the size of a baseball.) Unlike mozzarella, with which a large amount of curd can be melted at once and balls quickly rolled, burrata is a little more time consuming so it’s advisable to only work with a single portion at a time, particularly for beginners.
• Briefly stir curd making sure that cubes are not bound together thus allowing the water to evenly heat the curd. Allow curd to bathe for a few minutes until a cube gives under pressure easily like soft putty. The softened of curd should noticeably have begun to cling together more readily as a single mass.
• Drain water from bowl and submerge curd in second bath of hot water. With gentle pressure, run spatula down over curd smoothing it out and working it into one mass. Curd should now be coagulating and becoming extremely soft.
• With hands (utensils can be used but superior control is gained by using hands) start to gather a mass pressing it together, turning it over on itself, until the pieces have completely melted into one shiny smooth mass. The water is hot and this kind of hurts – but the end result is worth it. NOTE: Keep in mind to not over-work the curd. If the curd is over-worked the finished product will lose its wonderful tender consistency.
• Once the curd is ready, remove from water and immediately begin working it into shape.
• Cupping both hands and holding with palms facing up, begin working the curd by gently pressing thumbs and heel of hand down over the top portion, rotating mass counterclockwise, creating a smooth surface, while gently pushing up with other fingers almost as if shaping a mushroom cap. Once a smooth semi-sphere begins to take shape, begin to flatten into a pancake shape, holding vertically between flattened hands and rotating inwards. Once flattened to about 6″ to 8″ in diameter, place smooth side down over top of small bowl, draped with prepared cheese cloth (previously set aside) and allow to droop inwards essentially forming an interior lining on the bowl with a little extra hanging over the sides. You may have to help it into place.
• Stir cream mixture once more and immediately scoop or pour carefully into the pouch. Gently and swiftly lift two opposite sides of the pouch together followed by the other two sides, creating pleats, so all sides of pouch meet and twist and pinch it together.
• Take the bound “beggar’s purse” and tie off with kitchen string. There should be enough at the sealed end to quickly lift the pouch and drop directly into the prepared baggies. Seal tightly with a twist tie. NOTE: If using squares of plastic wrap, you should line the bowl with the plastic before you place the cheese in, thereby allowing you to seal the pouch and wrap in plastic in one step.
• Place the sealed pouches in the pan of cool water and let rest for 10-15 minutes.
• This cheese really should be enjoyed immediately while the interior is still warm and oozy though it can be refrigerated for up to three days. If refrigerated, the interior will firm up a little so place the cheese out at room temperature for an hour or so before serving.