While the origin of pizza in its earliest incarnation is unconfirmed, one thing is certain. People have added whatever flavorful thing they can on flatbread to make it tasty throughout the ages, and none has been as successful as cheese. As far back as 2,000 years ago, Roman soldiers added cheese and olive oil to unleavened flatbread called matzah.
The consensus among historians is that the birthplace of modern pizza as we know it today was Naples in Italy. They were the first to add tomatoes as a pizza topping, creating a simple version of the modern-day pizza, and it also featured cheese! Cheese has remained a consistent aspect of pizza, and today it’s almost impossible to imagine pizza without cheese.
Whether it’s a Neapolitan, Chicago, or Hawaiian-style pizza, the secret lies in choosing the best cheese. While mozzarella remains the most popular cheese of choice in America, almost every pizzeria uses cheese blends to create unique flavors and outdo the competition.
The world of cheese offers plenty of variation in flavor, appearance, and texture. Whether you prefer your cheese rancid, acidic, creamy, or salty with a firm, stretchy or stringy texture and a browny edge, oily or melty appearance, there are plenty of options.
Let’s explore some of the best types of cheese for pizza.
The first mozzarella cheese was made in Italy near Naples using the rich milk of water buffalos. It’s named after how it’s produced. In Italian, ‘mozzare’ refers to how the curd is hand-stretched into strips and cut into balls.
Today, it’s the most popular cheese in pizza, providing a fresh taste with a light and creamy texture. A scientific study in 2014 proved that it’s the best cheese for pizza because it bubbles, melts, and browns better than any other cheese.
Initially, it was exclusively made with buffalo milk but nowadays it’s mainly produced with cow’s milk. It’s sold in both fresh and low moisture variations. Fresh mozzarella features high moisture, and you have to use it within the first day of being made due to its short shelf life.
Low-moisture mozzarella features a longer shelf life, has a salty, denser flavor, and gets melty much faster when baked. Low moisture mozzarella produced from whole milk is the perfect cheese for pizza, whether you’re using it alone or adding it into a cheese blend.
Unlike fresh mozzarella, it features a lower moisture content, which means fewer puddles to ensure you don’t get a soggy pizza. Mozzarella is very versatile, and it works wonders for all pizza styles, from Neapolitan to deep dish and Margherita pizza.
Its creamy and mild flavor pairs well with sweet tomato sauce, fresh basil, pepperoni, Vienna sausage, olives, salami, red peppers, and arugula.
Famous for its strong presence and sharp flavor, cheddar cheese is iconic, influential, and packed with character. It’s the second most popular cheese in the US, just behind mozzarella. It has a long history that dates back to the 12th Century in England.
It’s named after Cheddar Village, a small town with caves and gorges used by farmers to keep milk cool on hot days. According to legend, cheddar cheese was born when a milkmaid forgot a milk pail in one of the caves. Upon returning, she found the milk had hardened into perfect golden goodness.
Cheddar cheese is an excellent addition to any pizza, thanks to its low elasticity, ensuring it doesn’t blister easily like mozzarella. However, it’s not recommended to use cheddar cheese exclusively for topping pizza because of its low meltability. High heat causes the fats to separate from the solids making it more suitable for pizza cheese blends.
It can add color to your pizza and give it a rich, tangy flavor. It also pairs well with pepperoni, bacon, ham, chicken, pineapple, broccoli, and capers.
Provolone cheese was first made in southern Italy near Naples but later spread to Veneto and Lombardy in the north. It’s often called mozzarella’s cousin because they’re both made in the pasta filata or spun paste style that involves a unique stretching process.
This Italian cheese comes in two varieties, the piccante, and dolce. The provolone dolce is aged for a shorter period and can add a creamier texture and sweeter flavor to your pizza. The provolone piccante is aged longer and can add a dryer texture and sharper taste to your pizza.
Provolone is a semi-hard cheese and is very popular for cheese blends, often mixed with mozzarella for pizza. It has a high melting ability with low to medium stretchiness depending on age. It works well on any pizza, and you can pair it with chicken, basil, pesto, onion, sausage, spinach, red peppers, or tomato.
Parmesan cheese has a long history dating back to the middle ages in the 13th and 14th Centuries. Legend has it that Benedictine monks living in the Parma-Reggio region created this hard cheese around 900 years ago to extend the shelf life of the large quantities of milk they were producing.
Parmesan production is strictly regulated in Europe, and the official name of the authentic cheese is Parmigiano-Reggiano. This hard cheese is best enjoyed grated, shredded, or shaved on top of your freshly baked pizza. It has low melting ability and stretchiness where it crisps instead of melting and snaps instead of stretching.
Because of its dryness and delicate flavor, you should never blend it in cheese mixes. You shouldn’t bake it either because it tends to burn. It’s best used as a garnish to enhance the flavor of your pizza with its umami taste. Parmesan cheese accentuates the taste of flavorful and fresh toppings, making it great for Margherita, Sicilian and Hawaiian pizzas.
Its savory flavor also pairs well with bacon, prosciutto, broccoli, mozzarella, and provolone cheese.
Gouda cheese is a classic, and it ranks among the oldest cheeses in the world still in production using its original recipe. Its origin dates back to 1184, and it’s named after the town where it was initially distributed in southern Holland, not where it was made.
Today, Gouda is one of the world’s most popular cheeses. It’s semi-hard and famous for its unique, rich flavor and smooth texture. Gouda is yellow and made from cow’s milk, and features an aromatic flavor that leaves you with an aftertaste.
It’s an excellent cheese for pizza featuring barbecue chicken or pulled pork. You can find Gouda in smoked or straight options, so you can choose the one that best brings out the flavor of your pizza. It has low to medium meltability depending on age and low stretchiness.
Gouda is best suited for thin-crust pizzas and pairs well with barbecued meats thanks to its natural smokiness. It also pairs well with garlic, red onions, bacon, olives, spinach, sausage, and mushrooms
Ricotta cheese is so old it’s almost impossible to place its actual origins. It’s an Italian cheese made from sheep, goat, buffalo, or cow’s milk leftover whey. Traditionally, it’s a by-product from the production of other cheeses like provolone or mozzarella.
Ricotta cheese is soft with a creamy, rich texture and a slightly sweet and mild flavor. Its meltability is extremely low, and it retains its shape even in high temperatures. Instead of stretching, it becomes creamy, making it more suitable as a base cheese for pizza.
To create a creamy base, you can blend ricotta cheese with fontina, mozzarella, gorgonzola, or gruyere cheese. Its fresh flavor pairs well with vegetables and seafood, including shrimp, spinach, broccoli, kale, tomatoes, or roasted garlic.
Goat cheese has been around for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Greece. You can get it as hard-aged cheese or soft, fresh cheese. Thanks to the higher proportion of fatty acids in goat’s milk, it features a tart and earthy flavor that can give your pizza a unique twist.
Goat cheese provides light to medium browning for your pizza and tends to pool instead of stretching. It won’t melt like provolone or mozzarella, but it will soften up very nicely when you cook it in the oven. It provides an aftertaste like dry white wine and is an excellent addition to focaccia, flatbread, and Mediterranean pizzas.
It pairs well with aromatic herbs and milder vegetables, including caramelized onions, peppers, arugula, figs, mushrooms, basil, and bell peppers.
Gruyere is a famous original Swiss cheese that dates back to the 12th Century. It was initially made by cow herders in the mountainous town of Gruyeres in Switzerland as a means of survival. It’s made from whole cow’s milk and is slightly grainy with complex flavors.
As you eat gruyere, you’ll initially experience a sweet or fruity flavor that later becomes earthy and nutty. It provides your pizza with medium browning and features high stretchiness with visible gooey strands.
Gruyere cheese has high and even meltability, and it doesn’t easily blister, making it an excellent cheese for all kinds of pizza. Its nutty and sweet flavor pairs well with most pizza toppings like peppers, sausage, potatoes, pesto, red onions, and spinach.
Gorgonzola cheese has historically been produced for centuries in the Italian city of Gorgonzola. It’s often called blue or raw cheese and is made from unskimmed cow’s milk through a specific technique that creates edible molds. The molds influence the flavor and give the cheese the typical blue or green streak appearance.
When young, gorgonzola cheese is soft and creamy and can give your pizza a slightly acidic finish. Mature versions are piquant and robust, delivering a salty, savory flavor to your pizza, especially when you bite on the blue veins.
It features a low melting point and a high moisture content, so it’s important not to overcook it.
Pecorino-Romano cheese dates back to ancient Rome, where it featured in imperial palace banquets. It was used as a ration for Roman legionnaires thanks to its long shelf life and nutritional value.
Pecorino Romano is a hard cheese made from fresh whole milk from sheep raised in the plains of Lazio and Sardinia. It must be produced with lamb rennet from animals raised in the same production area.
It’s best enjoyed grated on your freshly baked pizza because of its low meltability and stretchiness. It features an aromatic, spicy, and tangy taste that will enhance the flavor of your pizza. It pairs well with flavorful toppings, including bacon, prosciutto, sausage, pepper, and broccoli.
The Best Cheese For Pizza
Not all cheeses are created equal, and the cheese that’s proven to be the best for pizza is mozzarella. Even scientific research agrees it’s the best for the taste buds and the eyes! If you’re looking to create the perfect pizza, consider incorporating mozzarella or a blend of some of the finest cheeses above in your homemade pizza recipe.
With a straightforward pizza recipe, you’ll be making your mouth-watering pizza crust in no time. Don’t forget about the pizza sauce, an essential ingredient that will prevent the pizza dough from getting too soggy as your pizza cooks.