Upon first glance, mozzarella and burrata may look like the same cheese. Both are soft, white, delicately textured, typically sold in a round shape, and highly regarded for their ability to make any appetizer or pizza an immediate hit.
But if you look closer, you’ll find that the differences between the two cheeses make them unique yet equally beloved. Read on to learn more about how these two Italian specialties compare.
Mozzarella, believed to have originated in southern Italy, has been around for ages, although its history is up for debate. As the Italian Tribune notes, Romans were producing a similar cheese made from sheep’s milk as far back as the first century A.D. But based on a 12th-century tradition established by the San Lorenzo Monastery monks in Capua that included offering bread and “mozza” to passing pilgrims, the cheese may have roots that began in the Middle Ages.
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Amanda Bernhardt, the cheese buyer at Di Bruno Bros. in Philadelphia, explains that burrata, mozzarella’s cousin, is a “relatively new addition” to the world of cheese, having first appeared in the Puglia region in the 1920s. “Originally created to use up scraps left over from the [mozzarella] cheesemaking process, burrata resembles a small dumpling-like pouch and is stuffed with leftover cheese scraps and cream,” she says.
There are two popular styles of mozzarella: fior di latte, made with cow’s milk, and the more traditional mozzarella di bufala, or buffalo mozzarella, made with the milk from the Italian Mediterranean buffalo. Buffalo mozzarella tends to be tangier, creamier, and has more flavor than the cow’s milk versions, which is not surprising considering buffalo milk has almost twice the fat. Some buffalo mozzarella comes with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status that requires it to have been made in specific regions of Italy from a time-honored recipe. While much of the mozzarella found in the U.S. is made from cow’s milk, many believe mozzarella made with buffalo milk is a superior product worthy of the hunt.
Burrata is essentially stracciatella — mozzarella that has been stretched, torn into thin strands and soaked in cream — that is then encased by a layer of fresh mozzarella, and sealed or tied up to make a ball. As The Washington Post explains, “Stracciatella means ‘rag,’ from the Italian word ‘strattore’ (to stretch), and describes the action to make the cheese as well as the way it looks.” Most stracciatella found in the U.S. is made with cow’s milk.
Burrata’s creamy center yields a richer, more flavorful cheese than mozzarella, but overall, a major difference between the two cheeses has to do with texture. As Bernhardt notes, “mozzarella does not have the gooey ‘core’ of burrata.” When it comes to using burrata for cooking, she says it’s best when used to finish a dish. “Think atop a hot pasta, a tomato salad, or served simply with crusty bread, olive oil, and salt,” she says. For her, mozzarella “can be served similarly or used for culinary purposes where melty, gooey, fresh cheese would shine.” But if pressed to choose between the two, Bernhardt says the choice is similar to picking a favorite child: “I suppose I’d go with burrata if I want something a bit more decadent.”