‘Burrata is not a product that is suitable for travelling,’ declares Simona di Vietri, founder of La Latteria, a burrata-maker in west London. ‘Would you ship bread made in France to Australia?’
Simona is referring to the thousands of burratas that are packed into vans every day and shipped from cheesemaking factories in Italy to locations all over the world, many of which are wolfed down by us Brits: in 2020 approximately 164,200 tonnes of cheese were imported from Italy to the UK. We’re mad for the stuff.
The ostensibly bland-looking blob of white cheese has been having a main-character moment over the past couple of years. Initially hailed by foodies as a passing fad, burrata is now so ubiquitous on London menus (and the internet) that it’s difficult to avoid big balls of the cream-filled formaggio. Cut it open and its centre, filled with stracciatella (cream-soaked mozzarella bits), bursts out like pus from a giant pimple. A gushing globule of milky cheese doesn’t sound like the world’s most appetising dish, but to the thousands of Londoners that consume burrata every day, and the 500 million people who’ve watched #burrata on TikTok, it absolutely is.
Created in Puglia in the south of Italy more than 100 years ago, the on-trend cheese has humble origins. It was born as a way to use up leftover cream and mozzarella scraps (ritagli): #sustainable. Burrata has now joined the ranks of ’nduja, truffle and harissa as somewhat niche ingredients that have been adopted as recurring characters on trendy menus. Suddenly, it’s everywhere, and it’s accessible. It’s being baked on TikTok, dumped on top of pizza and is popping up in almost every small-plate restaurant in the capital.
The social effect
It’s not just restaurateurs who adore the cheese, it’s the social-media masses. Burrata has become an influencer in its own right.
‘Burrata is one of those things that is so popular because it’s incredibly simple, but it’s luxurious. It’s not that much more expensive than any other cheese,’ says Sophie Wyburd, a chef and food content creator with more than 84,000 Instagram followers. In a UK supermarket, the average price of a burrata cheese is £2.64. Whereas in London restaurants, a plate ranges from around £7 to £14. In a bold claim, Wyburd thinks burrata is going to be ‘as commonplace as cheddar soon’.
‘It's got this reputation as being basic, but things are considered basic because they’re so widely loved, because they are so delicious,’ she laughs. ‘Burrata is obviously quite a bland thing in itself, but that lends itself really well to being a canvas to serve with other things which are much more flavoursome.’ Wyburd recommends pairing it with punchy flavours like ’nduja, or smoked olive oil and some ‘really good sourdough’.
On social media, that ‘burrata tear’ is such a moment
But is it style over substance? For Wyburd, burrata is the perfect ingredient for reeling in engagement on Instagram and TikTok. ‘On social media, that “burrata tear” is such a moment. It’s just the simplest, most effective foodstuff for grabbing people’s attention,’ she says. ‘It's something about the texture. Textures are probably the most important quality of food when you’re doing food photography or food video.’ And the look is just as important, as Wyburd says we ‘eat with our eyes as well as our mouths’.
This has also come in handy for restaurants, as the ‘viral moment’ has become an excellent tool for venues to get their name out on socials, Wyburd explains. Would we rather food’s value be measured on its taste rather than its ability to be primped and preened to look sweet on camera? Sure. But TikTok’s chokehold on the food industry doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon, and neither is burrata.
The art of eating
For some people, however, mass-produced burrata is tarnishing the cheese’s good name, which is how we come to La Latteria. The cheesemaker was founded in 2016 when Simona di Vietri left her job in finance to start making mozzarella in North Acton. She supplies some of London’s favourite Italian restaurants, like Padella and Trullo, and it’s fair to say she’s a burrata purist: she grew up in Basilicata on the border of Puglia, buying the ‘super-fresh’ cheese every morning. Although some people would prefer its production was kept in Italy, she wondered why no one else was making it in the UK. After all, burrata should be eaten on the day it’s made, as she continually stresses. Instead, by the time supermarket burrata is torn open under the white glow of a ring light, almost two weeks will have passed since production. This means that the cheese we’re buying is packed full of preservatives, which is undeniably not how it was designed to be consumed.
When done right, perhaps with some sweet grilled peaches, as they serve it at Trullo, burrata can be pure heaven. We aren’t trying to be iconoclasts here, but, we all know that you can have too much of a good thing. (Lactose-intolerant readers, I’m sure you can concur.) Perhaps these little pockets of creaminess were made to be enjoyed in moderation?
‘Burrata was always destined to arrive on our shores,’ says Tim Siadatan, co-founder of Padella and Trullo. ‘It might not have the status of mozzarella yet, but it will do. You can get it everywhere.’ The gooey globules are a firm favourite on the menus at both of Siadatan’s restaurants. He’s an ardent supporter of the cheese, seeing it as an accessible item that everyone can enjoy. Even his four-year-old daughter loves it. ‘It’s like a mozzarella doughnut,’ he says.
The popularity of burrata for Siadatan comes from its versatility: ‘It’s a crowdpleaser,’ he says. In a rather unexpected combination, he serves it with marinated anchovies. ‘The creaminess of the burrata lends itself well to the salty umami of the fish.’
‘I generally recommend everyone gives it a go,’ he adds. ‘It only gives you happiness and joy. What’s not to like?’
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