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It’s the middle of summer and the garden is bursting with life and color, full of fresh fruit and ripe vegetables. As a gardener, the summer harvest is the absolute reward for all of the hardwork and patience that has gone into planning, caring for, and watching your young seedlings grow up.
Making complete meals from the garden is a favorite pastime and healthy way to get creative in the kitchen while immersing yourself in a full sensory experience. The Caprese salad – a layered delight of fresh mozzarella, aromatic basil, and juicy tomatoes topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil – is the perfect balance of flavor and texture. What’s also exciting about this recipe is that you can even make your own cheese easily and we’re going to tell you how!
There are few approaches to making mozzarella: The first and perhaps easiest would be to use a kit such as the Farmsteady Fresh Cheese Kit which, along with a gallon of whole milk, is everything you need to make several batches of delicious, homemade mozzarella cheese. You can also make it from scratch following a recipe that you might find in a basic cheesemaking book like Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll. Either way, you’ll follow the same steps although you may use slightly different, more traditional, ingredients such as a cheese culture and substituting citric acid for vinegar.
For the kit version, you’ll start by adding 1½ tsp of citric acid to your cold milk, and heat it slowly to 90ºF, then remove from heat. In a small bowl, add the rennet to ¼c of cool water, and stir until dissolved. Once dissolved, add the rennet-water mixture to the milk, stir, and then cover with a cloth for 5 minutes and allow to rest. At this point, a process is underway of the curd and whey separating.
Once the mixture has a custard-like texture, use a knife to cut it into cubes that are 1½ inches in size by slicing in a cross-hatch pattern. Strain the curd from the whey using cheesecloth to catch the solids while allowing the liquid to strain through. Once fully strained, you’ll dip the curd in hot water then stretch and knead it, ultimately forming it into a ball. This process is imperative to achieving proper texture.
Take your ball and put it into the fridge for several hours. While chilling, venture out to the garden to pick a ripe tomato and pluck a few sprigs of basil for your Caprese salad. Slice the tomatoes to a medium thickness and place on a plate or platter. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil and balsamic vinegar on each slice, then take your fresh mozzarella and cut it thick and put it on top of the tomatoes. Top with a fresh basil leaf. Season with salt and fresh cracked peppercorn to taste. Lastly, drizzle more olive oil and balsamic vinegar over each piece. Your fresh DIY Caprese salad is ready to be enjoyed!