From little golden globes the size of grapes to bulbous, ombré-red hunks, they’re certainly a funky feast for the eyes. At peak ripeness, hanging heavy off the vine, their heady scent is potent. Sliced raw and adorned with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of salt, they’re a hallmark warm-weather snack. We’re talking, of course, about heirloom tomatoes.
Whereas hybrid tomatoes are pollinated by hand to ensure that the fruit has certain qualities of each parent and a uniform appearance, plants botanically classified as heirlooms must be open-pollinated—by birds, bees, or another natural method. As a result, they grow in odd shapes and striking colors and have more delicate skins than their crossbred counterparts. But what they lack in durability and homogeneity, they more than make up for in superior flavor.
The “heirloom” designation may also indicate that the variety has been grown and shared within a family or community, usually for generations, which is why you’re more likely to find heirloom tomatoes at farmers’ markets than at chain grocery stores.
Savor heirloom tomatoes raw, topped with cheese that won’t overwhelm but will also stand up to the fruit’s acid. Fresh mozzarella is a standby that continues to thrill; its milky flavor woos the tomato’s natural sweetness. Try the old friends together in a salad, grilled on skewers, or simply on their own. For extra decadence, swap in a pillowy, cream-filled burrata.
Chèvre is another fresh cheese with enough heft to combat sharp vegetal flavors. Top sourdough toast with fresh goat cheese and heirloom slices for a light bite; broil briefly for an extra-creamy treat. Salad and grilled pizza (see our recipe for Heirloom Tomato Grilled Pizza) are also great vehicles for this combo. Aged cheeses like parmesan and pecorino will certainly complement heirlooms, but fresh is the way to go al fresco.