Monthly Archives: October 2011

Burrata Plea: Consider Fall. And Winter. And Finter.

Maplebrook Burrata

Maplebrook Burrata

As the weather grows colder in the rest of the country (the San Francisco bay area just seems to be getting hotter, let’s leave us out of this), I’ve been reminded of one burrata thing. Burrata is not seasonal. Believe it or not, my summer caprese salad lovers, people make burrata in the fall. Even the winter. Sometimes even in that period between the two, known as finter.

This post is a plea to keep the burrata love going.

Burrata, a fresh cheese from Southern Italy, is mozzarella on another level. It is a freshly stuffed sheet of mozzarella wrapped around mozzarella curds mixed with cream. Yes, cream. It is a great big fun ball of delicious creaminess. It is nearly impossible not to like. Most who do not like burrata also do not like puppies or kittens, even if they don’t have to take care of them.

Over the summer I’ve had some great burratas around town- this is the time that chefs seem to serve it. Burrata loves tomatoes. Tomatoes love burratas. But a good burrata also likes other foods not in the nightshade family.

Three of my favorite burratas (all local- burrata is so fresh that it can go bad within days, so I get it as near home as I can) complete this post. But first, here are a few suggestions on how to keep the burrata love going past the summer season. Because it deserves it. Don’t pull away.

In general, I’m okay with putting almost anything delicious with burrata as an appetizer. But always keep this cheese itself simple. If you doll up some veggies to go with it, spice the veggies, not the cheese. Just drizzle the burrata with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. It is easily overwhelmed. This goes for all pairing suggestions below.

Figs- Either use fresh figs or reconsitute dried figs in wine poaching liquid (see picture above).

Roasted root vegetables– Serve burrata over a bed of warm roasted butternut sqaush and carrots cooked with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and thyme.

Bruschetta– Spoon over grilled or toasted bread rubbed with olive oil and a garlic clove.

Persimmons- Top a persimmon-frisée salad dressed in a tarragon and lemon vinaigrette with this cheese. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds for crunch.

Garbanzo beans– Top chick peas dressed with rosemary, time and garlic with oil-cured black olives and burrata.

Three of my faves:

Gioia: The first local one I tried, from San Diego. A thin mozzarella sheet wraps the curds in tight. Comes in a one pound tub. Yes, you can eat all of it.

Maplebrook: Pictured above, from Vermont. This one has a thicker mozz shell than the Gioia and a slightly looser curd, and is just as delicious. Comes packed in water.

Di Stefano It also oozes in the right places. From southern California

How do you like serving your burrata? Any locals that you love?

Backyard Lovin Class: Cheese & Wine of Sonoma Marin, This Thursday


Marin's Barinaga Girls

Backyard Lovin:

Cheese & Wine of Sonoma Marin

Solano Cellars (510.525.9463)

Berkeley, California

Thursday, October 27th , 6:30 pm

With vast green hills dotted with lazy cows as close as Marin and Sonoma, we don’t need to go to France to experience dairy heaven. It’s right in our own back yard. From The Great Cowgirl Creamery to smaller guys like Achandinha and Nicasio, we’ve got enough cheese to last a lifetime. And to fill a decadent plate for a cheese and wine pairing class (score!). In “Backyard Lovin,” Kirstin will lead a class tasting of eight cheeses and local wines, paired to make each other happy.

Cheese & Wine Pairing: A Zinful Love

Hobo Zinfandel

Hobo Zinfandel

I’m not always big Zinfandel fan.

With its ooey-gooey fruit and sweet vanilla flavors, generally low acidity and soft finish, most Zins remind me more of a snickerdoodle topped with my grandmother’s sugary freezer jam than a well-structured wine. I have nothing against cookies, mind you, but I like my wine to have more of a kick. As a registered wine snob, having a wine with that much sweet pleasure without bracing acidity or tannins to back it the hedonistic fruit makes me feel nervous. Suspicious even. Like I’m not being punished enough.

So when I find Zins who walk the walk such as the above featured Hobo or the Green and Red to its right, that have a little acidity and maybe even a splash of tannins to make it a well-rounded individual, I’m a happy girl. Why don’t I just drink something else, you ask?

Because Zinfandel is a cheese miracle worker. Zin does to big cheeses what high heels do for miniskirts. It gives them a happy little boost.

A little history

Zinfandel started out in Croatia as the grape Crljenak Kastelanski. In the 18th century, monks took it with them across the Adriatic to Pulgia. In Italy, it was re-baptized as Primitivo. It eventually made it to Boston, then later, California, where it became the state grape. It became popular in the 1960’s with the success of then-small production (now pretty big) wineries Ridge, Ravenswood and Rosebloom.

When it first started out, Zin was a more moderate wine. It has grown bigger and bolder in the U.S. as winemakers have catered to American wine tastes that run sweeter and juicier than the Euros. It is what it is.

Luckily for us, big cheeses like big wines. Cheddars, Goudas, bold goats and aged sheep’s milks all love a gooey Zin. Even if I don’t always like a big Zin separately, I can’t help but like it with a slice of Fiore Sardo. One must cave in.

I co-taught a “Zinfully Good: Big Wine, Big Cheese” class at the Cheese School of San Francisco with Daphne Zepos in January. Besides reconfirming what an awesome teacher she was, the class also redemonstrated the power of the pairing.

For this wine and cheese pairing blog series, I wanted to share my favorites from the class with you and urge you to use than as a jumping off point for exploring your fave cheeses and Zins.

Hoja Santa- that little goat cheese wrapped in an hoja santa leaf from Paula Lambert with fennel, mint and lemon flavors loved a rich, oaky Zin. Surprised the hell out of me. An 08 Gamaba Zin was the winner with this, and a low oak and high acidity Primitivo fell short. I would have thought a lighter cheese would like a lighter wine, but the flavors imparted from the leaf boosted what the little cheese could handle.

Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve– the high-alcohol, rich and fierce 06 Rosenblum “St. Peter’s Church” was great with this American Alpine style. I thought it might nix the subtlies of the cheese, but because the wine was older, its fruit and ba-da-boom was a little toned down. Repeat- just a bit. The Zin just ended up bringing out the fruity flavors in the cheese even more. Score.

Saenkanter Gouda– also liked the bigger, sweeter Zins mentioned above. Sweet and sweet and plush and plush.

Montgomery’s Cheddar and the Rosenbloom was the clear winner. Monty’s earthy flavors and the lightly aged yet jammy Zin snuggled up like two pigs in a blanket. I considered leaving the room to give them privacy, but there was much work to be done.

What are your favorite cheeses to have with Zins?

Tomme Brulée: Blowtorches in the Cheese Cave

Tomme Brulée, bruléed.

If you walk into a cheese shop and ask for Basque cheese, chances are you’ll be led to Petit Agour or Petit Basque. Some wheels, made in small production batches, will be amazing. Others, made by larger companies in factories, are little more than pale interpretations of the real thing- like fat free cake with sugar free frosting, or roller blades instead of the four wheelers. But there’s another sheep’s milk that’s escaped the Pyrenees that shouldn’t be missed.

Tomme Brulée is Petit Basque burnt to another level.

Aged by Affineur Pascal Beillevaire, Tomme Brulée is a pint-sized sheep’s milk cheese with a bruléed rind. But before it goes crispy, it starts out like many small Basque style cheeses.

First, the milk for Tomme Brulée (translates to burnt wheel) is cooked slowly so that the sugars caramelize a touch. Sheep’s milk has its own characteristic sweetness, and cooking the milk at low temperatures brings out even more of the sugar inherit in it. Then, the curds are separated from the whey, the wheels are shaped, and drained. Next, the cheese is heavily pressed to create a rich, hole-free paste and left to age.

Then at some point in its aging process, it’s burnt. I’m not exactly sure when it’s bruléed, so if anyone knows, help a girl out. But at one point or another (I’m assuming a couple months after its left to mature) someone takes a blow torch to the rind and flambées it.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever have the opportunity to burn a brulée crust or handle a blow torch in a kitchen, but its pretty much one of the coolest thing one can do with a food product besides this. I mean, you have a blow torch. And you are turning sugars into a hard crust that someone will joyously break with a spoon or, a blistering a rind that transforms a shepherds cheese into a cheese oddity. Sometimes the blow torch is huge too and you feel amazing holding it. You probably look great too (wink wink).

And the flavor? Well, honestly, it’s really similar to a Petit Agour or Petit Basque. But it has an extra little smokey, caramel kick. Like the cookies of my my ex-in-laws made with a cigarette between her lips at Christmas time (but, you know, a lot better).

I like this cheese with a Viognier or a creamier white with a touch of oak. It fares well on a cheeseboard, but its smooth paste is also great for melting.

Have you tried this burnt beauty before? What did you think?