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Why everyone loves the burrata

Burrata, the big ball of creamy cheese first invented to prevent wastage, is now showing up on menus across India

Asian burrata salad at Foo in Bengaluru.
Asian burrata salad at Foo in Bengaluru.

The burrata, a big dumpling of cheese, makes for excellent conversation, whether it’s about the subtlety of flavour, the familiarity in texture—it does remind one of malai—how good it looks on the plate, and so on—till you bite into it and your mouth is filled with a burst of pure creaminess. Then you just need to savour the delicate flavour of the cheese, the way it coats your tongue, leaving a film of cream.

If you grew up in a household that made its own chhena (Indian farmer’s cheese or unripened curd cheese), you may remember balls of clean white muslin dangling in the kitchen and the faint aroma of curdled milk. The burrata does remind one of that ball of white muslin, somewhat vaguely.

Today, it finds place on menus across the country, from lavish chaats in a posh Delhi restaurant to a pizza in Jaipur, a salad in Mumbai and the main feature on a dish at a Bengaluru restaurant. Its sheer flexibility is giving two of the most commonly used cheeses—the mozzarella and Brie—stiff competition.

When the now-closed Dishkiyaoon, an Indian restaurant at Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex, launched in 2016, it introduced burrata in its menu. One of the partners, Gaurav Dabrai, says many established restaurateurs told them they were too ahead of their time. “And now, everywhere you look, it’s burrata porn. At the moment, the burrata is the avocado of cheeses.” Certainly, more restaurants are now using it more innovatively in dishes. Dabrai believes one reason could be availability.

For commercial, home-grown brands such as Cremeitalia, The Spotted Cow Fromagerie, Highland Farms, Bengaluru's Vallombrosa Cheese Shop and Begum Victoria are bringing more burrata to the HoReCa (hotels, restaurants and cafés) market. Indians today are more aware of the wide range of gourmet cheeses that are available not only in the country but are being produced in their backyard.

“It’s one of my personal favourites,” says chef Manish Mehrotra, who runs the award-winning restaurant Indian Accent in Delhi. “It’s fresh cheese and the flavour and texture is quite similar to the malai we use in Indian food, the creaminess of it but on a slightly more savoury note. The burrata has a gentle tartness to it and can actually be used in plenty of Indian dishes that use cream.”

Mumbai-based Hussain Shahzad, executive chef at O Pedro, Veronica’s and The Bombay Canteen (Hunger Inc. Hospitality), says it’s “a neutral-flavoured cheese and doesn’t really have a taste of its own but its creamy texture and that lactic mouthfeel make it easy to play around with ingredients”.

“The burrata,” he adds, “is reminiscent of most kinds of dairy products that we make in India. We are a country that loves paneer (or cottage cheese), topli na paneer (a Parsi delicacy) or other soft cheeses that are freshly made every single day. And burrata is also a fresh milk cheese that has to be made every day.”

How it all began

It all began in a tiny village in southern Italy’s Puglia region in the 1920s, when a local cheesemaker found an ingenious way to upcycle or reinvent leftover mozzarella curd cheese. It’s said the area had only a few hundred cows and the cheesemaker, Lorenzo Bianchino Chieppa, popularly credited with this invention, didn’t want to let the milk or cream go waste.

Originally made by stretching out mozzarella cheese pieces and filling these up with more mozzarella and cream from the morning milking, the burrata was a great idea that has turned into a globally profitable business. Assolatte, the Italian dairy association, reports that Italy produced about 123,000 tonnes of burrata in 2020. The US imported about 4,500 tonnes the same year, with a value of around $47 million (around 390 crore now), according to the Italian Trade Agency.

The India story

The Indian Accent now has a papdi chaat that replaces curd with the burrata. “And why not, imagine the papdi, the masala, sev, the sweet and spicy chutneys and the richness of the creamy burrata, it’s a great way to use a non-Indian ingredient in an Indian dish,” says Mehrotra.

Their “Burrata, Spiced Lotus Root, Tomato Murabba”, a delightful appetiser, offers the crunch of fried lotus root, the sweet and tartness of a tomato murabba and, of course, the burrata.

Shahzad notes: “The inside of the burrata is not just fermented cheese curds or any form of cheese curds, it is fresh cream mixed with stracciatella (stretched mozzarella curd fixed with fresh cream) and bound with mozzarella. The texture and flavour are something our palate is familiar with and gravitates towards because we cannot really debate the fact that we are a dairy-loving country.” If you put burrata over a dal makhani, for instance, it elevates the richness of the dish because the cream flows into the dal when you cut open the burrata, he says.

Burrata & Avocado Poee Sandwich at O Pedro in Mumbai.
Burrata & Avocado Poee Sandwich at O Pedro in Mumbai.

O Pedro offers the Burrata & Avocado Poee Sandwich, which is served with pickled onions and a basil dressing. Then there’s the Burrata Salad—a creamy purée of carrots with mustard, almost like a carrot foogath, finished off with a salad of chewy carrots and melon seeds. “During summer, we serve it with a purée of green tomatoes and scallions, which is finished off with a fresh heirloom tomato salad with smoked corn, crunchy melon seeds, granola and Parmesan crisps,” says Shazhad. And at Veronica’s, the menu has the Burra Burra Bowl, a leafy salad with burrata and basil.

Alay Gor, director of the Mumbai-based restaurant Bombay Cartel, says while people may not know where the burrata comes from, they like the way it’s used in food. “We started off with the burrata eight months back. In a salad. You get your veggies and also your cheese, not heavy on the stomach. And I was surprised that on the first day of introducing the burrata salad, we sold 11 of those. Now people come and ask us if we have anything else with the burrata in it.” The Bombay Cartel menu currently serves the burrata in the form of a salad, where the cheese is smeared with pesto and served with watercress, onions, walnuts, pomegranates. “I would like to make a similar one but with strawberries during season,” he says. The restaurant also has the Burrata Pizza, which is also popular, but Gor says there’s greater demand for the salad.

Bengaluru’s LUPA has the Burratina—a visually delightful dish that comes with a tomato dust-coated burrata on a bed of fennel and cauliflower espuma (Spanish for foam) with cherry tomatoes that are marinated in a dressing of tomato tamari (a dressing produced by Goa-based Brown Koji Boys) and then served with tomato crisps on the side. The Bengaluru-based artisanal cheesemaker Begum Victoria’s small-batch production of burratina serves the dish well.

Chef Manu Chandra, founder and partner at LUPA and part owner of Begum Victoria, says: “The burrata has become an extremely popular dish over the past few years in many Italian restaurants across India. But one downside of serving a large burrata is that it can be extremely filling but also monotonous. By using a smaller version made especially for us by a local artisanal cheesemaker and adding layers of complexity through thoughtful construction of components and flavour profiles, a formerly ubiquitous dish stands out as an outstanding start to a great meal.”

At the Mumbai-based Praia Bar & Kitchen, which opened early this year, Dabrai, a partner at the restaurant, and executive chef Sagar Thite have created a tableside dip called the burrata mousse. “We don’t have the exact dish now but what we did do is accentuate it with more spices for better flavouring and serve it with nachos. Now that has become a big hit. We also do a fried burrata infused with pesto,” Dabrai says, adding, “Fried fat and umami is a no-brainer, really.”

Praia also has a salad called Prosciutto and Melon with Stracciatella. “We also add Midori spray and honey to this dish. To be honest, this one was made to serve my vanity but not once did we expect to do it as well as it does now. Then again, we didn’t want to play safe with Praia,” Dabrai adds. Thite and Dabrai have experimented with all kinds of flavours with the burrata, including the addition of Korean spices. Not everything works, they say.

In Jaipur, two restaurants, Paro and Napoli, have been experimenting with the burrata as well. Food and beverage consultant Ronak Maheshwari says, “When we started Napoli back in 2019, Jaipur’s F&B scenario was weak. No one knew what a burrata was. At that point of time, we introduced it to Jaipur with a dish known as the Fried Injected Burrata, where we took a cheese ball, injected it with home-made basil pesto, crumb-fried it and served it with sundried tomato chutney. Everyone wants something with a crunch to it. This dish became extremely popular. We are also using the burrata on pizzas, and it does do well,” he says.

Chef Ayush Khandelwal, who heads the kitchen at Paro, a modern Indian bar, says they use burrata in a tokri chaat. “It just works. The burrata replaced the curd and paired with onions, tomatoes, coriander, chutney and sev—it’s difficult to go wrong with it. We have introduced this recently and it’s really doing well,” he explains.

Keenan Tham, managing director and co-founder, Pebble Street Hospitality, says the burrata goes into their salad at Foo, their Asian restaurant in Bengaluru. “With the Asian Burrata Salad, we have ensured the subtle flavour of the cheese is prevalent but we have added our own twist of spice with the Lantern and Som Tum sauce. It also has avocado, romaine lettuce, lemongrass and quinoa, to give it a little cream and crunch alongside the mild spicy kick from the sauce.”

The burrata is extremely flexible, Tham says, and given that it can pretty much soak in any flavour you add, it can be used in food across cuisines, be it Asian or Indian and of course European.

For decades, the Indian cheese market was quite divided—you ate processed cheese at home, either by Amul or Britannia and later, Mother Dairy and Go Cheese, and “gourmet” cheeses at restaurants, unless someone was bringing back imported cheese for you. But now, most popular gourmet cheeses are either available off the shelf or online—be it a mozzarella, Gouda, Parmesan, feta or, of course, the burrata. This has enabled Indian homes to experiment more with their cheeses at home, because who does not enjoy restaurant-level food at home? Stores chains such as Foodhall and Nature’s Basket have taken gourmet cheese to the country. Specialised brands such as Acres Wild, Bombay Cheese Company and Flanders have made their cheeses available either online or at their own outlets in various cities. The burrata too has a new home.

Priyadarshini Nandy is a Bengaluru-based journalist.

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