by Corin Hirsch
If you've ever tasted burrata, you don't easily forget it. The snowy balls of pillow-soft mozzarella harbor curds and heavy cream in their midst, both of which ooze onto your plate when you stab one with a fork. An almost illicit tide of silky, buttery freshness washes into your mouth with each bite.
The thing is, burrata is usually hard to find, so its pleasures are not well known. A specialty of Puglia, the heel of Italy's boot, burrata is made by filling fresh mozzarella with leftover curds, called stracciatella, and fresh cream; its top is then sealed into a little twist, the inside a treasure to be freed a little later. It doesn't travel well, as burrata is intended to be eaten within a day or so of its making. It's a small blessing, then, that we now have an Italian burrata maker in Vermont, at Maplebrook Farm in Bennington.
I first heard about Domenico Marchitelli on Vermont Public Radio, and had no idea that his hands were behind the local burrata that's been appearing in markets for the last few months. Maplebrook's co-owner and cheese maker, Michael Scheps, says he considered making burrata for years, but only last summer started messing around seriously. As he did, a woman called Maplebrook to inquire about a job for her husband — as it happens, a master cheese maker trained in Puglia. Burrata was his specialty.
"My partner said, 'This is lightning,'" recalls Scheps. Marchitelli, who didn't speak much English, joined Maplebrook last November. Together, they started testing batch after batch, ball after ball, of creamy burrata. "More cream, less cream, more stracciatella, more mozzarella," says Scheps. Tweaking and tasting went on for two months, with chefs offering feedback. "I don't even eat it anymore," he jokes.
Each round of Maplebrook burrata is made slowly, by hand, and comes in a tub of milky, sea-salted brine. When you pull it out, it feels like a delicate raw egg that might break into your palm. Set gently on a plate, surrounded by heirloom tomato wedges and fresh basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and sprinkled with salt and pepper, it's summer on a plate.
For an eat-it-the-moment-it's-made thrill, Slow Food Vermont is sponsoring a burrata-making workshop at Jericho's Plumpest Peach this weekend. I asked Mara Welton, co-owner of Half Pint Farm in Burlington, if she sensed a burrata zeitgeist emerging. "I feel like everyone is starting to really enjoy foods like this that have a temporal nature," she wrote in an email. "Burrata is best eaten fresh, within 24 hours. It really is considered past its prime after that. I really like this aspect of it; it needs to be made special and shared right away with those you love."
Last night, I surrounded a ball of burrata with the things that love it: the tomatoes and the basil, but also grilled slices of eggplant, curls of prosciutto, pepperoncini, an arugula salad and toasty bread slathered in olive oil, to soak up every last bit of cream. Antipasti can be the main event, and burrata is an able star.
Corin Hirsch compulsively seeks out (and tries to recreate) tasty dishes and drinks that reflect the season. Each week, Grazing highlights some of those adventures.