Tuesday, November 20, 2007

BelGioioso Burrata

A creamy fresh Italian cheese born in the Puglia region of southern Italy 30 years ago is today influencing an American culinary revolution, thanks to a dedicated cheesemaker determined to resurrect a favorite delicacy of his youth.

Cheesemaker Mimmo Bruno, born in Italy, and now a Wisconsin cheesemaker, was one of the first artisans in the United States to recreate Burrata, a cream-filled fresh mozzarella. Today, he handcrafts the Italian delicacy for BelGioioso Cheese in Denmark, Wis.

Derived from the Italian word for butter, Burrata (pronounced boor-AH-tah) is known for its creamy, soft center and rich flavor. A darling of top American chefs, the cheese is finding a growing audience in the United States.

“Burrata is a very delicate cheese that must be made by hand – it’s a labor of love,” Bruno told me recently. “Because it’s filled with fresh cream, it must be very carefully handled. It’s truly an artisan cheese.”

Growing up in the Puglia region of Italy, Bruno remembers when the first local cheesemaker introduced Burrata in the 1970s. “It quickly became a regional favorite – everybody was soon trying to make it. But when I left Italy in 1986, Burrata was still very much a regional cheese – if you went 100 kilometers out of Puglia, no one knew what it was,” Bruno says.

A 30-year cheesemaker veteran, Bruno got his start at a local factory in Italy when he was 11 years old, scrubbing cheese vats and washing floors. Whenever he got the chance, he hovered around the veteran cheesemakers, watching and listening, and soon learned the trade. At 12 years old, he made his first vat of fresh mozzarella. Soon he was making 2,000 lire a week, equivalent to $1. The neighborhood cheese plant eventually became his after school destination, full-time summer job and “my home away from home.”

After a career in the Italian army, Bruno set out for the United States and started making cheese in California, eventually owning two different cheese factories on the West Coast. In 2006, after he sold his second plant, Bruno began working for BelGioioso Cheese Inc., and has since stamped his trademark “Delizie Di Mimmo” translated to “Mimmo’s Delights” on the Burrata cheese he now handcrafts in Wisconsin.

Made to order at BelGioioso and available in 8-oz hand-formed balls packaged in water, Burrata makes a striking appetizer when cut into pieces and drizzled with olive oil and plated atop a nest of arugula greens. The Italian delicacy also makes for a unique alternative to buffalo mozzarella, whether it’s added to a bowl of hot pasta or added to flatbreads and specialty pizzas.

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