I first met Joe Talluto a few months ago when I visited the Talluto’s Authentic Italian Food factory to see how they make their fabulous homemade pasta (and many other things!). Needless to say I was ecstatic when he invited me down to the Italian Market to learn first-hand how mozzarella and burrata are made.
I arrived at the Italian Market as I usually do, with a smile on my face and simultaneous regret that I never lived in the city at some point in my 20s (ha!). Seriously though I really love the Market. There’s just something about it that genuinely pulls at my heart strings. The people, scenery, vendors, and the overall sense of rhythmic tradition is just unduplicatable. It’s like its own little city within the city of Philadelphia. Three years ago I had the pleasure of being at the Market on Christmas Eve. I remember standing in one of the stores while people yelled their cheese order from across the room, there was a small band playing outside, I was juggling my bags because of course I waayyyy overbought, and there was an old metal drum outside with a fire burning to try and help people stay warm. I stopped out front of what I now realize was Talluto’s, and texted my friend to tell him I had found my new happy place. It was a distinct organized chaos that I immediately connected with.
Talluto’s is situated on the corner of 9th & Carpenter in the heart of the Italian Market. I walked into the store that was already busy at 10:30 in the morning, ready to make (eat) some cheese! Joe Talluto greeted me with a warm smile and unlike our first meeting where I felt clumsy and nervous, this time it was like seeing an old family friend. The transition from handshake to hug is always my favorite— especially since it seemed way more fitting considering it feels like everyone knows everyone on this street. We headed in the back where I was introduced to Rick, a partner in Talluto’s retail as well as the Italian Market and Norristown locations (Norristown is the location of the original factory which I wrote about in my previous Talluto’s post). Next was Dave, who runs the Italian Market location. Finally, Tony was the one who would show me how to make burrata. As expected, everyone was super friendly and hospitable.
Dave and I stood by a sink that pipes out hot water at 185 degrees. It’s the only sink in the store that produces the very hot water (from the basement), and it’s used primarily to make the mozzarella. It would be far too labor intensive, and would take up a ton of room to have to heat and reheat water continuously just for the purpose of cheese. When I saw how precise the process is, this made all the more sense.
Cheese curds are cut into large chunks and pushed through what are basically metal guitar strings. This keeps the size consistent and makes for a smooth final product. Everything goes into a large metal bowl which will retain the heat needed to make the cheese.
After the curds are put into the bowl, Dave adds the hot water which starts cooking the curds. Water will be added and taken away throughout the entire process so that it’s just the right temperature.
Dave immediately begins working the curds with a large paddle. It really isn’t an exact science to make the cheese, and seems more about instinct and being able to observe when the next step is ready to take place. This clearly comes from a ton of trial and error.
The curds will begin to melt in the water and will eventually smooth out into silky strands when formed over the paddle. This is when you know it’s time to start shaping the cheese into the mozzarella balls.
Dave showed me how to use the heel of my hand to stretch and form the cheese into a baseball-sized piece. I was trying not to use my fingers too much to tuck the cheese in underneath (it’ll create air bubbles in the cheese), but it was a bit harder than it looked!
After the mozzarella ball is formed, you tear off the excess and it goes into cold water for it to set. Dave showed me how to braid the cheese which took him about 2.4 seconds with zero chance I could have mimicked in a one-day visit! It really was just about as beautiful as cheese can be.
The excess mozzarella is stretched into a thinner rope, and cut into knots.
It’s then used for Talluto’s fresh mozzarella salad.
Next up– BURRATA! If you’ve never had burrata, you really are missing out. It’s like mozzarella and cream had a baby, and it is absolutely delicious. In fact, that’s a huge understatement which I realized even further after I had Talluto’s burrata. More on that after my lesson. Burrata comes from the Italian word for butter, “burro”. The word “burrata” means “buttered” in Italian. While it’s only gained popularity in the last few years, burrata was actually originally crafted in Puglia (southern Italy) around the 1920s. Once you’ve tried it, I promise you’ll be looking for it on any restaurant menu going forward.
Tony has been with Talluto’s for almost a decade and is the burrata man. He and the rest of the team have perfected this process after much trial and error. While it’s not a ton of steps, it really is extremely precise so that the final product is always consistent. Tony starts by adding some of the fresh mozzarella into a chopper (think Cuisinart).
Cream is then added.
Then some salt. I’ve kept out the measurements so that there are SOME secrets left! Joe mentioned that Talluto’s will be changing their salt to an Italy- originated product.
The mixture is blended until it’s about the consistency of a pureed cottage cheese. It was then that I wanted to stick a spoon into the chopper. I did not. But I wanted to. Also, if you are wondering what those golden tins are holding, it’s bread pudding cooling which smelled AMAZING! It’s the Italian Market; these stores don’t have a ton of space to work with so the kitchens are small and every inch of space is utilized.
More fresh mozzarella is made except instead of being formed into balls, this time it’s flattened out and placed into a small cup to shape so that the creamy mixture has somewhere to rest.
Tony used a scoop so that every burrata holds the exact same amount.
The remaining cheese is folded over the top, twisted, pinched off, flipped over inside the cup, and left to sit in the warm water so that the cheese can seal all of that creamy cheese mixture inside.
After it sets, the burrata is wrapped in plastic and tied with a green ribbon. Joe explained that in Italy they use fresh flowers to indicate how long ago the cheese was made. As the flowers begin to wilt, the longer it’s been since the cheese was originally made. Things are a bit more regulated in the US and Talluto’s isn’t allowed to follow this tradition. Instead, they opt for green ribbon for their burrata. It’s like the best little cheese gift ever!
After the mozzarella and burrata were made, Joe prepared a gorgeous spread for us to enjoy. He put the burrata over arugula that was lightly dressed with really good olive oil (you can definitely tell the difference between good olive oil and grocery-store kind. You only need a small amount of this liquid gold and there’s really no comparison to the store-bought version), salt, and pepper. Dave brought out freshly cut speck, which is smoked prosciutto. Fresh prosciutto on waxed paper is easily one of those foods that makes me internally whimper in delight at the mere sight of it. Joe cut the burrata almost all the way through in quarters, and drizzled with more olive oil. What we were left with was a salad made for kings. And by kings, I mean a bunch of completely normal people who just happen to love food! Plus me, not a queen but perhaps a princess just for today.
Like many people, I’d never even heard of burrata until about the last year. Lately, it’s become a bit of a trendy thing. My mother and I had it for the first time this summer down the shore and loved it. I’ve had it a few times since then and it’s such a treat, and a break from the traditional mozzarella. However, after tasting this fresh Talluto’s burrata, I’m almost insulted by those other impostor burratas!!! I’m serious. The others don’t even compare to what I experienced. With just one bite, I knew I’d never really be satisfied with other burrata again. It became my new standard: the level by which all other burrata will now be measured.
Joe also made a caprese salad with fresh bread, using the mozzarella we had just made. He sliced me off a piece of the fresh mutz that was just made not 30 min prior! Simple ingredients, that’s really all you need for an honest meal.
At one point I had to stop and take it all in. I told Joe, “I know this is your every day. But this is crazy to me. I’m standing here in the kitchen, in the back of Talluto’s in the Italian Market, eating this cheese we just made.” It was such a moment for me, and I could picture myself telling my son about it as soon as I got home (which is exactly what I did). I know I’ll never forget that moment as long as I live.
Talluto’s makes a few batches of mozzarella and burrata on a daily basis. However, if you go in and they’re sold out of mozzarella, they’ll be happy to make some for you fresh while you wait. How epic is that?! In my head, it should take so much longer to make this glorious cheese, but to know you can get it made fresh when you need it, is just mind blowing.
After we were done, I walked out into the store to get a closer look of the other things Talluto’s offers (not just cheese and pasta!). Homemade salads were sitting, ready to be scooped into containers, and olives just as pretty as they could be, bathing in their briny juices.
Joe and I walked over to one of my other favorite places in the Market, Fante’s. If you haven’t been, I sincerely suggest you do. Not only do they have a huge selection of the best-of-the-best kitchen supplies, but the back room is filled with unique baking supplies that I always leave with a few of. Unbeknownst me, and the reason we were there, Fante’s has a coffee and tea bar inside! I’m regretting not bringing some of those fragrant teas home with me. Joe’s latte smelled intoxicating, and the owner, Mariella Esposito, was as sweet as could be. The comradery between the two as they interacted was so nice to see; I could tell the family relationship had gone back for years and years. I’m bucket-listing to grab some tea the next time I’m in the area.
I walked around the market for a bit afterwards and picked up some fresh arugula, baby eggplant, and basil. I even bought a signed and numbered print of the Market from the Visitor’s Center to remember that day always. I’m having it framed to be hung in my dining room.
A few days later I took some of that exquisite mozzarella and made pizza for my son and I, with the eggplant and fresh basil I bought from the Market (plain for him). Somehow, it tasted just a little bit better with all of the extra love and memories put into it.
(Recipe is here http://www.imphillyfoodgirl.com/eggplant-pizza-with-fresh-mozzarella/)
Another great day with Talluto’s, in one of my most favorite places, ever.
(From left to right: Rick, Dave, me, Tony, Joe)
Talluto’s Authentic Italian Foods
944 S 9th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147