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Friday, June 12, 2015

It's Hard to Make Burrata, So Let Precita Park Cafe Show You

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2015 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Look at that professionally made burrata, hiding back there. - PETER LAWRENCE KANE
  • Peter Lawrence Kane
  • Look at that professionally made burrata, hiding back there.

It is fairly challenging to make burrata, the fresh, southern Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream (stracciatella) inside a shell of pure mozzarella. Sourcing the curds can be challenging, but beyond a thermometer, you don’t really need much specialized equipment. Only technique.

As Precita Park Café makes its own burrata daily (serving it with artichoke, fried parsley, and a porcini vinaigrette), Chefs Chris Seyersdahl and Richie Wilim are teaming up with Sosh to present a burrata making class (with a wine-paired meal!) on Saturday, July 11.

click to enlarge Mozzarella curds (for stracciatella). - PETER LAWRENCE KANE
  • Peter Lawrence Kane
  • Mozzarella curds (for stracciatella).

I was lucky enough to attend a preview, and I can say with confidence that burrata is tricky, especially for kitchen civilians who lack the callouses to submerge their hands in 170-degree water for more than a couple seconds.

Starting with two pounds of mozzarella curd, we added about half a cup of heavy cream to form the stracciatella filling — using ordinary spoons, because if you set upon dairy products too ferociously, you’ll end up with whipped butter — salted the hell out of it, and set it aside, where it formed lumps that we’d later smooth out. While we tore into a plate of summer squash, fennel, pickled ramps, arugula, and smoked mozzarella, and drank some Pinot Noir, I asked if Wednesday’s curious weather would affect the process.

A humid day “changes everything,” Seyersdahl said. “But it’s not necessarily good or bad.”

click to enlarge More mozzarella curds (for the shell). - PETER LAWRENCE KANE
  • Peter Lawrence Kane
  • More mozzarella curds (for the shell).

The next step was making the shell, where you pour hot water over a separate bowl of curds and quickly stir them with a spoon as the mozzarella congeals and the water turns into whey. Then it came time to flatten the newly formed cheese into a thin patty with the proportions of pizza dough. (You need to wear gloves for this, because unpasteurized cheese is highly susceptible to picking up flavors, even from your hands.)

How many times did it take before Precita Park’s chefs were getting it right every time?

Seyersdahl: “We made a lot of really bad ones. It’s trial and error.”

Wilim: “Too many times. Thousands. You don’t want to overwork it, or the mozzarella gets really hard.”

click to enlarge Almost-thin-enough mozzarella. - PETER LAWRENCE KANE
  • Peter Lawrence Kane
  • Almost-thin-enough mozzarella.

Once you have a nice, thin disc of mozzarella, it’s time to spoon in some stracciatella, then seal it by turning it upside down in the hot whey bath and pinching off a golf-ball size amount of mozz at the top. (The resulting burrata looks like a bao bun if you do it properly.)

This is where I messed up. Conscious of time, I didn’t thin mine out sufficiently and plopped too much stracciatella in there, so it could barely tie it off and some of the filling leaked out, anyway. Whatevs, it still tasted fine. (Burrata is fragile, and must be stored at room temperature, in its own whey, and eaten within three days at the most.) 

click to enlarge An artfully staged pic of my finished burrata that conceals the leaking side. - PETER LAWRENCE KANE
  • Peter Lawrence Kane
  • An artfully staged pic of my finished burrata that conceals the leaking side.

Slight pressure to get it right notwithstanding, it's a fun class. Wilim and Seyersdahl’s love of this process is evident, but no more so than when Wilim refers to the stracciatella as “your goodness.”

“And if you don’t end up with mozzarella that you didn’t use, just toss it in pasta,” he said.

The best part about the night? Besides the satisfaction of eating well and taking home an artisanal cheese you made yourself, if no one’s looking, you can steal the chefs’ demo burrata.

Burrata Making Class and Wine-Paired Meal, Saturday, July 11, 3 p.m., at Precita Park Café, 500 Precita Ave., 415-647-7702.

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.


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