The first time, it took a bit of nerve. A roadtrip down the 10, then the 60. The exchange was quick but friendly. The fresh mozzarella and burrata was worth it.
But now burrata has become easier to find both at markets like Whole Foods and on restaurant menus from the formal Vincenti to the mini-chain Pitfire Pizza. Yet the trek to the Gioia Cheese Company and, as of last year, Angelo & Franco, The Factory to purchase locally made mozzarellas, including some varieties that are still rare outside their factory doors, is still worth every mile.
Located in a gleaming white business park behind the Hawthorne Airport, Angelo & Franco, The Factory has a showroom feel. Recently both Angelo Tartaglia and Franco Russo were in their large comfortable lobby, and a question about their recently launched mozzarella varieties turned into a lesson on cheese making.
"When you make cheese, it's a split process," Tartaglia explained. First, the milk must be separated into its solids, the curd, and liquid, the whey. "Both steps, we do them here to make the freshest product." The curds are used to make mozzarella and the whey for ricotta. They sell both items separately, but are now making a product that combined the two: burricotta.
While burrata, with its voluminous cream and clingy mozzarella, envelops ingredients, burricotta floats on them. When sliced, the mozzarella unravels into the moist ricotta, creating a contrast of textures. The pillowy ricotta spreads easily, while the ribbons of mozzarella add a bit of bite. Together, they give whatever its added to the taste of rich sweet milk, while not weighing it down.
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There have been visits to Vito Girardi's Gioia Cheese Factory where we've caught a glimpse of his huge silver cheese vat. And walking into the small front office, we typically find Girardi's wife Monica or their son Frank. Along with the fresh mozzarellas, Gioia also makes an affumicata, a smoked mozzarella. "It's smoked with wood chips." Garardi says. "No chemicals." The smokiness of this cheese is intense, both in aroma and flavor, recalling thick cut bacon more than cheese.
Freshly made mozzarella can also be found at Andrew's Cheese Shop, where owner Andrew Steiner uses curds from Gioia to make mozzarellas in various shapes, including hefty braids. Stringy on the outside, but dense in the center, the concentration of curds gives the braids a stronger cheese taste. Steiner makes the mozzarellas on Wednesdays, before his store opens for the day. However, knock on the door and see a maker at work. As Steiner told us: "People are welcome to come watch."
Angelo & Franco, The Factory: 3441 Jack Northrop Avenue, Hawthorne; (310) 263-0506. Gioia Cheese Company: 1605 Potrero Avenue, South El Monte; (626) 444-6015. Andrew's Cheese Shop: 728 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica; (310) 393-3308.