At the peak of summer, local tomatoes burst with juicy, sweetness. Their bright acidity calls out for the rich, creamy taste of fresh mozzarella. Now-a-days, you can find so many varieties of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes at the local farmers’ markets and kitchen gardens – and when they are truly vine-ripened, they have a wonderful texture and chin-dripping juiciness. It almost doesn’t matter what variety you pick – they are all delicious! Taste around and pick your favorite. I prefer lower acidity and sweeter flavor.
Why can’t you get a good tomato in February, even if they’re labeled “vine ripened”? Tomatoes go through several phases of development and ripening. Once the fruit has formed behind the flower they go through the green stage, when the tomatoes have a matte sheen and the ripening state when the skin has a more shiny gloss. Tomatoes picked in the green stage will never ripen. On a commercial level, these green tomatoes are treated with ethylene gas to commence the ripening process. Unfortunately, the USDA does not regulate the definition of “vine-ripe” and many commercial producers of tomatoes use the term at their marketing convenience. Because tomatoes are shipped across the country and around the world, producers rely on these tricks to stabilize tomatoes for shipment and increase overall shelf-life. And this is why a February tomato is sometimes referred to as No-mato and can be used in a game of baseball (see video on this page – it’s funny and sad!)
Now that we’re in peak tomato season, I’m savoring them in all sorts of preparations… sauces, pasta and a quintessential summer caprese salad. To do justice to these fine summer jewels, I made my own mozzarella cheese. Sort of. I purchase the curd and then pull it by hand.
Mozzarella curd can be purchased at Armenian markets or through a restaurant wholesale distributor. If purchasing in bulk, I recommend cutting the curd down into 1 pound blocks, wrapping it tightly in plastic and freezing it. The curd will last for 2 years this way.
1. Bring large pot of heavily salted water to a boil
2. Break curd apart into small pieces in a stainless steel bowl.
3. When water is just below a boil (about 190-200F), pour water over curd to cover.
Stir just a little, and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Keep remaining water hot.
4. Meanwhile, fill a bowl with ice, milk and water. The milk bath will be the final storage place for the freshly made mozzarella. The ice will quickly cool the cheese so that it will hold its shape. The milk will keep a balance of flavor in the cheese so that the flavor doesn’t leach out into the storing liquid. The ice bath is all crucial for your hands – to help cool them before stretching the hot curds.
5. Drain water off mozzarella curd. Cover a second time with hot water.
6. Using wooden spoons to grab the curd, pull it out of the water and let it stretch back in… this will smooth out the curds.
7. When there are just a few lumps left in the cheese, grab about a ¼ pound lump and stretch it into a ball. As you’ll be using your hands at this point, it helps to briefly cool your hands in the ice water before grabbing the cheese.
8. When the balls are smooth and round put them in the ice bath to cool and store. Slice and serve.
Thanks to Wes for taking the action shots.