Philadelphia is no stranger to the culture of cheese. Its heavy Italian makeup partakes (and produces) mountains of mozzarella and pecorino. The city’s titular cream cheese has overtaken the nation. Heck, street fights have almost broken out over whether provolone or Cheez Whiz is the proper condiment for cheese steaks. No wonder that a Philly restaurant would find a way to buld on the perfection of one of the staples in the Italian cheese pantry—burrata.
Despite relatively late popularity in the U.S. due to lack of exportation from Italy until the 1950s, burrata has now become a prize on many menus—no doubt because it acts like the decadent cousin of mozzarella. The name means “buttery” and the cheese lives up to it, slippery and silky while still being creamy, with the most delicate salinity to cut into the richness. The creamy cheese dollops were beloved at A16, and Chef Michael White helped make a name for himself for breaking the “no seafood with cheese” rule with his lobster and stracciatella appetizer (stracciatella being the creamy innards of burrata).
Somehow the team at Rittenhouse Tavern found a way to infuse even more creaminess into their burrata. Instead of the typical cream and mozzarella scrap foundation, Rittenhouse Executive Chef Nicholas Elmi gives his cheesy balls a literal booster shot—using an iSi gun to fill his twice-stretched mozzarella curd with a charged medley of crème fraîche, milk, whey, and olive oil.
To avoid a rich-food overload (“burrata is a little heavy,” Elmi says) the chef matches it with equal parts acid, earthiness, and salt in his Pickled Asian Pear, Mushroom Jam, and Pork Cracklings dish. “We wanted something a little bit lighter—something a little bit more fun,” Elmi explains. The salad of garnishes—myriad Asian Pear preparations, including dehydrated and pickled fruit, an earthy thick mushroom jam, crunchy pork cracklings from sausage and charcuterie and light, bitter frisee—transform what could be a simple rustic dish into something more modern and interactive.
It’s a departure from purist’s burrata, but the textural contrast, flavor, and color pop on the plate—not to mention the quick and easy iSi execution—make it a chef-friendly, as opposed to gratuitous, innovation on perfection.
Chef Nicholas Elmi Makes Burrata
1. Whisk together the crème fraîche, milk, whey, and olive oil and pour into an iSi gun. Let sit for 2 hours.
2. With a slotted spoon, place 30 grams of mozzarella curd in a small pot of water at 180˚F, seasoned with salt.
3. After 2 minutes, stretch and fold the curd into itself.
4. Once malleable, form into an oval shape and dip into pot once more.
5. Carefully inject the crème fraîche mixture into the mozzarella with the iSi gun.
6. Twist the bottom to close the mozzarella (ideally in a spherical shape).