Earlier today, my bud Lou sent me this crappy picture, which sent me on a mission to figure out if Whole Foods‘ burrata could possibly compare to the trendy little sack of creamy goodness coming out of Italy. I should say right from the start that I went about my task without the benefit of, you know, actually tasting the domestic product.
But I knew I had the perfect source for the assignment: Dean Gold, the chef/owner at Dino in Cleveland Park, who worked as a specialty foods buyer (including cheese) for Whole Foods in Southern California in the 1990s.
Gold has fresh burrata air-freighted to him twice a week from Puglia, the Southern region in Italy known for this soft, creamy specialty. For the uninitiated, burrata is a thinly stretched piece of buffalo mozzarella stuffed either with scraps leftover from a freshly made batch of mozz or with wet moist curds of ricotta (usually a mix of both cow and buffalo curds). Either way, fresh cream is added to the interior cheese, which is then tied up into a ball with the mozzarella wrapper and covered with a fake asphodel leaf.
No matter how a producer makes it, though, burrata is usually ready for shipment within hours after the milk has been pumped from the animal.
Dean says he pays about $4 for a four-ounce piece of Italian burrata. He has to sell the cheese quickly; it’s a highly perishable product that lasts, perhaps, four days tops. Dino sells an antipasto of burrata, which comes with three different tapenades and roasted tomato, for $14. It has been a big seller for Gold.
As for an American burrata, Dean says he’s doubtful about the product. “I’m decidedly skeptical based on a lot of homemade mozzarella that I’ve had,” he says.
American buffalo mozz may have a better texture, Dean notes, but it may also taste like a “tennis shoe” compared to the Italian stuff, which begins with far superior milk than we can get in the States, where it’s all pasteurized within an inch of its life. Plus, Dean adds, it all depends whether Whole Foods is producing its own curds or getting them shipped in. If the latter, how fresh are they?
But Dean says he’s open to the idea that Whole Foods has found a way to make good burrata. He wants to do a side-by-side tasting with his Italian version, which I told him I would arrange soon. For now, though, color him skeptical about the American cheese.
“I hope I’m really wrong,” he adds.
After I hung up the phone with Dean, I called the Whole Foods in Tenleytown, where Lou snapped his pic, to inquire about its burrata. The dude in the cheese department who answered the phone stopped me before I could even get started. He said the label is wrong on the burrata. It’s actually imported from Italy.
That’s when I turned skeptical, too. A four-ounce piece of Italian burrata selling for $4.68 at Whole Paycheck? That’s just a little more than Dean pays wholesale. I asked the clerk where in Italy they get their burrata. He said he’d check and get back to me.
I’m still waiting.