Let’s talk about stracciatella — and no, I don’t mean the gelato flavour or the Roman soup, which, to be honest, doesn’t sound all that bad (it’s just broth with mountains of parmesan cheese and beaten eggs). I’m talking about the creamy strings of cheese, which is named after its appearance, ‘little rags.’ Don’t know what I’m talking about? It’s okay. After all, it’s no burrata.
Yes, I brought that up. Put your pitchforks away. Burrata (which I have no issue with, just want to make that clear) is — as Grub Street put it — “a big fat blob of cheese.” I left out boring, because it’s not. It might be overused, but so is Hiramasa Kingfish, and you don’t hear us complaining about having to scoop up thin, acidic slices of raw fish at dinner. The blob being referred to here is a semi-soft white Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream.
Up until the current controversy, it graced our Instagram feeds, often surrounded by fresh heirloom tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and finally, the money shot, a knife piercing through its mozzarella shell, oozing creamy cheese like molten lava erupting from a volcano. It’s easy to see why this cheese was vaunted across social media platforms. It was practically made for internet culture. But can we really blame burrata for its appeal? I don’t think so.
But instead of joining sides, I’ve chosen to look at it a different way. The creamy, gooey stuff inside of Burrata is actually stracciatella. That’s where all the flavour is. So why aren’t we seeing more of this cheese on menus? During my research for this story, I looked up 31 restaurants I visited in the last year, and low and behold, 29 of them had burrata on the menu. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting it. I thought it would be easy to find a stracciatella starter, as I’ve had plenty of them over the past year, served with bread and doused in some kind of oil, but it seems they’ve all disappeared, replaced by the debatable burrata.
One such memorable stracciatella dish I encountered over the last 12 months was at Gellafrenda in Penrith. My emotional attachment to the dish could have something to do with the celebration of my engagement, but either way, I remember it so vividly. A plate of daisy-white stringy curds with green basil oil rivers snaking through its crevices served with toasted baguettes. Honestly, it looked like a burrata threw up on a plate, but it was fresh and light, with a creamy mouthfeel—everything you want from cheese. Out of curiosity, I looked up the current menu, and it seems the stracciatella was replaced with an orb of burrata sprinkled with charcoal salt and olive oil. Although, owner Phil Hallani said the removal of the dish had more to do with the direction of the restaurant than the popularity of burrata. “We wanted to do something more casual, and the stracciatella dish, which was super popular, felt more like a restaurant dish to us, which didn’t fit Gellafrenda 2.0.”
James Mac, Executive Chef at Odd Culture Group, recently put a stracciatella dish on Odd Culture’s new Sunday lunch offering. “I haven’t used it in a few years; I think it’s just one of those things that comes back in and out of favour,” he said. However, his decision to put stracciatella on the menu comes down to cost-effectiveness and its versatility of it. “It’s essentially a blank canvas, so we can add anything to it, even if it’s just a drizzle of olive oil and a crack of salt and pepper.”
At St Siandra, Mosman’s new Amalfi-coast style beach club restaurant, there’s a stracciatella toast on the new brunch menu, which is layered on a thick slice of sourdough, topped with caramelised onions, crushed salted pistachios, and a drizzle of chilli oil for a kick. Although I’m told the previous menu also featured stracciatella stuffed in sweet pimento peppers.
“Obviously, the filling of burrata is stracciatella, and I think more people are coming to understand that now. I’ve found that something as simple as stracciatella on toast is a delicious way to eat the product,” says Samuel McCallum, Head Chef at St Siandra.
McCallum agrees with Mac in that stracciatella is essentially a blank canvas, although, when it comes to presentation, it’s not quite as photogenic as its more well-known parcel, burrata.
“You’ve got to work a bit harder to make stracciatella appealing to the eye, but it’s definitely more versatile than burrata. You have this loose curd, which you can inject flavour into, whereas burrata has a shell, so any flavour you want to add sits outside of it until you break it apart,” said McCallum.
McCallum is well aware of the GrubStreet article and current debate, admitting the team had a bit of a laugh at it. “It’s interesting,” he says. “Burrata is originally from Italy, but in Sydney, it seems to have crossed the cuisine border, making its way into pan-Asian restaurants, for instance.”
Ms.G’s in Potts Point is one such modern Asian restaurant pulling the glob of dairy into its cuisine, which isn’t a stretch, considering burrata is akin to a super-sized soup dumpling. The dish in question is called “Strange flavour” burrata, and where you would normally see olive oil and balsamic vinegar is replaced with the oriental staples of sesame sauce and chilli oil, with a bunch of spinach and peanuts. At first glance, it looks nothing like Burrata until you pierce it open, and the stracciatella oozes out. I can tell you now the “strange flavour’ burrata is anything but boring. Perhaps that’s the secret to keeping it relevant by inventing new ways of seeing and tasting it.
Anthony Silvio, creative director at Vannella Cheese, a trusted and well-respected Sydney-based cheese manufacturer serving just about all the curd needs to restaurants and businesses Australia-wide, says it’s less about burrata being boring and more about the density and quality of burrata.
“The demand for burrata has turned this labour of love cheese into a highly commercialised product,” says Silvio. “I read that GrubStreet article and all I could think is, what Burrata are they eating? If it’s the shark-teeth white, oatmeal-textured goo, then yes, I agree, I would find it boring. But that’s not what burrata is. Firstly, it shouldn’t be white; it should be a straw-like colour. Secondly, it should ooze with creamy Stracciatella, not water.”
Although, Silvio is seeing an equalising demand for stracciatella, which has only happened in the last year. He believes people are educating themselves on the byproduct of burrata, and realising its versatility, especially when exposed to it on menus.
View this post on Instagram
Stracciatella, like burrata, is a labour of love. Silvio explains the stringy curds are made from sheets of fresh mozzarella, “sfilacci”, which are hand-pulled into thin string pieces before being cut and mixed with fresh cream. “There’s an art to making both,” he says, referring to the mozzarella-making process at Vannella Cheese.
“We have a sourdough starter of the cheese world, if you will, that we have made, which gives our products the complex flavour we’re known for. This is all before we even get the product of mozzarella. There’s so much involved, but when done right, with love and time, you get these two beautiful products: burrata and stracciatella.”
When it comes to weighing up the two in cost and value, Silvio admits stracciatella slightly comes out on top, mostly because you can get more product in the container than you can with one ball of burrata, he says.
Though, in the end, when all the dust settles from the online burrata war and the internet finds something else to fight over, Silvio believes burrata will survive. “There will always be a place for burrata and stracciatella,” he says. “It’s our bread and butter.”