Toward a Better Caprese Salad

You can improve a classic; Lydia Burns shows us how

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By David Hammond

The classic Caprese salad is just mozzarella, basil and tomato. Sometimes, the mozzarella is from a cow, sometimes a buffalo; olive oil is sometimes added.

At Charlie Trotter's farewell dinner in August, Nathan Myhrvold, co-author of the multi-volume Modernist Cuisine, whipped up a "Caprese salad" that was served in a glass cup: it was a liquefied salad, in keeping with Myhrvold's leanings toward molecular gastronomy.

I'm not sure that Myhrvold's version was an improvement, but I can say with first-hand authority that Lydia Burns (cheesemonger at Marion Street Cheese Market) prepared for us one of the best versions of Caprese salad I can remember: just basil and tomato on bread…with Driftless, a sheep's milk cheese from Hidden Springs Creamery in Wisconsin.

As an Italian, I feel some allegiance toward the traditional mozzarella, but I have to say, Driftless cheese upgrades the Caprese salad with a lot of added dimension.

"Sheep's milk cheese has more casein than mozzarella, so it's richer," Burns explained, "and there's a grassier flavor to the Driftless because sheep are grazers."

As she nibbled her hand-held salad, Burns described the flavor of the cheese as "bright, with a lemoniness that you don't get with cow's milk."

Because this sheep's milk cheese is spreadable, you can easily smear some on bread, add tomatoes and basil, and you've got a Caprese that will be a lot easier to eat than most salads.

Driftless cheese won first place in the 2009 United States Championship Cheese Contest in the category of Semi and Semi-Soft Sheep's Milk. It's is $21.99/pound at Marion Street Cheese Market…and we still have a few weeks of tomato season left.

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