The classic caprese salad— fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper—is a delightfully simple menu item familiar to most diners. Due to the small number of base ingredients, it’s also easy to add to a menu, and something that plays well across various takeout items that are as popular as ever.
Operators know that the key to making a truly great caprese application is to start with a quality fresh mozzarella.
“This is a well-recognized menu item,” says Chef Salvatore Gisellu of Urban Crust in Plano, Texas. “Most people are going to know what a caprese involves. But also, if you present it well, with quality products, you can get a nice margin on different caprese applications.”
Gisellu is a self-proclaimed mozzarella connoisseur who could talk about the cheese endlessly. He’s partial to BelGioioso fresh mozzarella and uses it in caprese applications across his menu.
“I’ve been using BelGioioso cheese for 12 years, since we opened this restaurant,” Gisellu says. “There is a consistency to the cheese, and a richness to the fresh mozzarella. The flavor is both intense but delicate at the same time. Fresh mozzarella is not always a very strong cheese, but BelGioioso’s flavor is the best out there.”
The ingredients of a caprese salad are almost exactly the same as the ingredients involved in a margherita pizza. That’s convenient for operators when it comes to using inventory across different menu items, and it’s hardly where the possibilities end.
“Caprese is a great salad, but it can also be a meal if you think about it,” Gisellu says. “You have your cheese, your tomatoes, your fresh herbs, and you can turn that into a pizza, a large salad, or a sandwich.”
Urban Crust has a daily special where avocado is substituted for tomatoes in a caprese salad. This might play especially well in winter when local tomatoes aren’t as ripe and avocados are in season.
“That’s a really popular special because you can present it really nice and it has great flavor,” Gisellu says. “In general, the way you plate any version of a caprese salad can help play it up.”
Subbing avocados for tomatoes in winter isn’t the only way Gisellu and his staff change up the caprese according to season. In the summer when diners are looking for something a bit lighter, they menu a caprese with watermelon, adding a unique dimension to the traditional dish. In the fall, they add blood oranges or persimmons. That’s paired, of course, with BelGioioso’s fresh mozzarella, which is available year round.
Chef Gisellu isn’t the only operator that has dealt with turnover and labor supply issues throughout the industry. One of the reasons he likes different caprese applications is that none of it requires skilled labor. A caprese salad can be prepared in minutes; so too, can a margherita pizza.
“When you have a really reliable cheese like BelGioioso’s mozzarella, it’s one less thing to worry about,” Gisellu says. “It’s a fresh cheese that you don’t have to reprocess. The quality is there, the price is right, and the consistency is something we, as operators, can really count on.”
For more information on BelGioioso’s famous fresh mozzarella, check out its website.