Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese, made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream, giving it a unique soft texture. It is usually served fresh, at room temperature. Burrata, once only packaged in leaves, is nowadays wrapped in a plastic sheet, sometimes printed with a leaves pattern on the outside. Even so, the tradition of having a wrapper of asphodel leaves is still followed, even if only covering outside the plastic. The leaves are indicators of the freshness of the Burrata; as long as the leaves are green, the cheese within is still fresh and ready to ooze out. The name "burrata" means "buttered" in Italian.
As with other mozzarellas, Burrata owes its existence to the water buffalo, a large beast that was brought to Italy from its native Asia sometime in the 1400s. Water buffalo milk is richer and higher in protein than that of cows, yielding 1.6 times more cheese. It also lacks the yellow pigment carotene found in cow’s milk, so mozzarella di bufala is pure white. Although mozzarella was originally made with the milk of water buffaloes, and the best still is (in Italy, the legal name for cow’s-milk "mozzarella," is fior di latte), almost all American mozzarella is made from cow’s milk.
Burrata originated from a small area of Apulia region, called Murgia. First produced around 1920 on the Bianchini farm in the town of Andria, (about 2/3 of the way up from Italy's heel to the spur of Apulia). In the 1950s, it became more widely available after a few of the local cheese factories - notably Chieppa - began producing it. It is generally suspected that factories were interested in it because it was a way to utilize the ritagli ("scraps" or "rags") of mozzarella. Established as an artisanal cheese, Burrata maintained its premium-product status even after it began to be made in a number of factories from Andria, Bari, Gioia del Colle, Modugno, all the way to Martina Franca, an eighty-mile stretch of Puglia. Notably, only in recent years has it traveled outside of its native Apulia.
Burrata starts out much like mozzarella, which begins like other cheeses, with rennet used to curdle the warm milk. But then, unlike other cheeses, fresh mozzarella curds are plunged into hot whey or lightly salted water, kneaded and pulled to develop the familiar stretchy strings (pasta filata), then shaped in whatever form is desired.
When making Burrata, the still-hot cheese is formed into a pouch, which is then filled with scraps of leftover mozzarella and topped off with fresh cream (panna) before closing. The finished Burrata is traditionally wrapped in the leaves of asphodel, tied to form a little brioche-like topknot, and moistened with a little whey. For convenience, these days the cheese is often placed in polyethylene, a plastic bag. The asphodel leaves, if present in packaging, should still be green when the cheese is served, to indicate the cheese’s freshness.
When the Burrata is sliced open, its ritagli-thickened panna flows out. The cheese has a rich, buttery flavor, and retains its fresh milkiness. It is best when eaten within 24 hours, and is considered past its prime after 48 hours. This cheese, due to its particular form (once opened, it must be eaten immediately) and the particularity given by the different texture of the inside and outside, can be served with salad, Prosciutto crudo, hard crusted bread, or with fresh tomato, olive oil and cracked black pepper. It may also be enjoyed tossed on top of drained penne or spaghetti.