Friday, September 23, 2005

Melts in Your Mouth & In Your Hand

Waking up in Vignamaggio http://www.vignamaggio.com/ a villa outside of Greve in Chianti (Tuscany), one might anticipate a day exploring Etrusian ruins or walking through a quaint Tuscan village or biking along the s.s.222 from winery to winery. NOT ME. I wake up thinking about the Fresh Bufalo Mozzarella that is waiting for me downstairs, and the sensation I will experience when wrapping my teeth around the little mound and breaching its taught outer skin, releasing that fresh tangy burst of creaminess. Hard to get this experience in California (at least while eating cheese). Cow's milk mozzo has about half the butter fat per unit weight of bufalo milk and getting the real thing from Italy, usually means it is several days or even weeks old--just not the same--too tart and a little off-flavor. If the water it is sitting in appears yellowish, don't even bother. Of course, now you can get decent American-made bufalo mozzarella in your specialty cheese shop or gourmet grocery store. It seems somebody is raising the bulky critters near San Diego.

But just when I thought I had eaten the best Mozzarella ever in my little Tuscan villa, some one introduced me to something called Burrata an even creamier (literally and aesthetically) rendition favored in Italy's Southland, especially Aupulia and Campania. Basically, Burata is the Hostess Twinkie of Mozzarella. A creamier, buttery fresh cheese center, surrounded by a stretched skin of Mozzarella that holds it in tact until you cut into it. Then the filling slowly oozes out onto your plate, your hand or on whatever other serving platform you might imagine. Eat it plain or adorn it. Last time I had it with smoked chili jam and strawberry-lavender preserves, chopped mint and Manni Olive Oil (another post). It was a pleasant, meltingly satisfying dessert after a rather large meat feast.

However, there is one very big problem with burrata: the shelflife of the stuff is even shorter than Fresh Mozzarella. So getting it from a cheese maker in Italy (not impossible; check out http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/kitchen/asp/home.asp) is even more problematic. First, some Italian farmer makes it, gets it to an airport hours away (or maybe it passes through the hands of several middlemen), then ships it to some retailer in America, who enters it into inventory, processes your order and then ships it to you. Could be days if you're lucky!

Enter Gioia Cheese Company of El Monte, California. I first tried their American-made burrata at A16 in the Marina district of San Francisco. A16 takes great pains to replicate the southern Italian artesan eating experience, right down to certifying its pizza oven with the consortium in Italy that governs such things. I was prepared to meet my maker after my first bite. Next, I had it once more at that bastion of old line, high-end Italian eating in Los Angeles, Valentino's. The burrata was a spectacular segway between a perfectly-executed Osso Buco and I what I imagine was a good dessert. I never got to dessert--went right from burrata to grappa.

A16 would serve Gioia burrata simply because it is a terrific product. Valentino's would only serve it if it was terrific AND typical of the best of the motherland. With no help from Valentino's but tremendous assistance from Victoria Lidbin at A16, I was able to track down the source:

Gioia Cheese Company, Inc.
1605 Potrero Ave.
South El Monte, CA 91733
Bus: (626) 444-6015

As you might expect, they are transplanted Southern Italians and very family-sounding over the phone. Furthermore, they agreed to ship their cheese to me for a party I was having. It arrived the day after it was made--in perfect condition. But now I have even more great news! Cowgirl Creamery is getting the stuff directly from Gioia and, so far, it seems to be arriving at the store in San Francisco's ferry building in darn good shape.

Still, for special occasions (like any time I am really hungry or just when the tomatoes look good) I intend to order directly from Gioia. Trouble is I have to order about six pounds at a time, so if anybody wants to piggy back on my latest addiction, drop me a note. One bite and you will become a acolyte of fresh, fresh, fresh burata.

So the next recipe I will attempt will be a Reconstructed Fried Egg, which I have never eaten and only imagined.

On top of some fresh greens, lay one slice of oozing burrata with a slight indentation in the middle made with the back of a spoon. Top this with a soft-cooked sunny-side up quail (or small chicken) egg (YOKE ONLY), a few drops of this-season's olive oil, many many slices of fresh white truffles from Piemonte (this will have to wait until early November). Finally, adorn with a very few chopped chive pieces. Next to the egg will be 2 smallish pieces of toasted ciabatta bread rubbed, when still warm, with a halved garlic clove and topped with very thin slices of prociutto di Parma and a few micro-greens. Projected cost--about $40 per plate with the truffle. Breakfast at my house anyone?

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