Burrata, saganaki and water buffalo in Vermont

2 Feb

Being from Wisconsin, my students think (rightly) that they know something about cheese. They have grown up, after all, in the only state known for its cheese curds —  small nuggets of young cheddar that squeak when you bite them, preferably within hours of their release from the cheese factory, or that melt in your mouth when they’ve been properly deep fried (to learn ALL about Wisconsin’s many cheeses, visit www.wisconsincheeseinfo.com).

Cheese curds (from wisconsincheeseinfo.com).

Wisconsinites are so enamored of their cheese (curds and otherwise), that they are  proud to be seen at public sporting events wearing oversized plastic wedges of cheddar on their heads – and to be photographed doing so by Fox News, the BBC, CNN, Sports Illustrated, and the like.

Proud cheesehead cheering for the Green Bay Packers, as captured by the BBC.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when my announcement that we were going to be talking about cheese in class the other day met with bored and skeptical frowns.  “What can you tell US about cheese that we don’t already know??” was the unspoken, yet unmistakable, challenge.

Well, for starters, let’s begin with Italian water buffalo, whose milk makes for the creamiest, tastiest burrata . . . “Wait!  There are buffalo – in Italy?????!!!!!”

Or the cheese caves in Vermont where . . . “What do mean cheese CAVES – in VERMONT????!!!!”

Or the stereotypical Greek Saganaki – which does NOT mean “flaming cheese” . . . “Oh COME on!!!!”

I always figure that if one student has a question, there are others yearning to ask the same one.  So, for all the life-long students out there who may be curious about Italian water buffalo, Vermonter cheese caves, or flame-less Saganaki, read on! (You will be rewarded at the end with a yummy recipe, I promise!)

Italian Water Buffalo.  No one is quite sure when or how water buffalo came to Italy.  Perhaps the Goths brought them over in medieval times, or perhaps the Arabs brought them to Sicily around 1000 b.c.,  or perhaps, as some fossil records suggest, they have been there since pre-historic times. There is one point, however, about which there is no confusion:  the milk of the Italian water buffalo makes wonderful cheese. 

Real live Italian water buffalo at the Masseria San Biagio, a short drive from Calimera in the Greek Salento.

 
 
 

Some mozzarella di bufala that we enjoyed at the Masseria Appide.

After tasting this wonderful cheese in Italy, I wondered if I could find imported mozzarella di bufala or its kin burrata in the U.S. to add to my favorite combination of sliced summer tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil drizzled with a olive oil and a pinch of salt.  I was thrilled when I stumbled upon a blog post called “The Best Burrata” on epicurious.com by self-identified “foodie” Sara Kagan.  She can tell you better than I can all about this wonderful cheese — and where to find it a bit closer to home. (There is actually a company called Bufala di Vermont, which used to produce a home-grown bufala from water buffalo raised in Woodstock, VT.  Unfortunately, they have now moved their operation to Quebec. However, they still sell their cheeses to shops in the States and online.)

From Sara Kagan's "The Best Burrata"

Now, since this is really supposed to be a blog about Greek food everywhere, let’s get to the Saganaki. The word  means “little frying pan” and refers to dishes that are cooked in such a vessel – so you can have saganaki cheese, saganaki shrimp, or saganaki mussels.  Saganaki cheese is made by frying a hearty chunk of a sharp cheese like Kaseri or Graviera in the little frying pan until it is bubbling, then seasoning it with a few grounds of black pepper and a squirt of lemon juice.  If you want the flames and the accompanying “Opa!” you’ll have to go to a restaurant in Chicago (where the practice is rumored to have originated), Toronto or Sydney!

How to Make Saganaki, Traditional or Flambee

Serves Four.

Four 3/4-inch thick slices of kasseri or kefalograviera (or you can experiment with any sharp,  hearty cheese that can withstand frying without dissolving into a lumpy mess!)

3/4 cups all purpose flour

1 egg, beaten

sea salt and pepper

extra virgin olive oil

1 ounce brandy (optional)

juice from one lemon

Season flour with freshly ground black pepper and a bit of salt.  Dip each slice of cheese into the beaten egg and then into the flour to coat evenly.  Pour a thin layer of olive oil into a small frying pan or skillet, and heat until hot but not smoking.  Add the cheese and cook until golden brown on both sides.  Squirt with lemon juice.  Serve immediately with wedges of pita or slices of a nice crusty bread and olives. 

If you want to add a touch of drama to the occasion, once the cheese is nicely browned, bring the skillet to the table (use potholders!), pour the brandy over the cheese, and ignite.  Extinguish with the lemon juice.  Shout “Opa!” and enjoy!

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One Response to “Burrata, saganaki and water buffalo in Vermont”

  1. greekofile February 6, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    Saganaki is great made with a slice of the round Lesvos ladotiri too. I just love the taste of cooked Greek cheeses – totally different from cold.
    I also love feta cooked in the oven or in foil parcels on top of a barbecue – with a sprinkling of olive oil and black pepper & few veggie bits included – eg sliced tomato, peppers, onion, garlic and maybe a touch of finely chopped chilli pepper (or more easily a splash of chilli sauce) if you like it piquant.
    Thanks for your regular Greek recipes and stories.
    Sylvia

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