What Cheese Goes on Pizza?
People can be pretty particular about their pizza and there are a wide variety of the types of cheese to use.
Some like it loaded up with every type of topping under the sun. Others prefer the elegant simplicity of a Neapolitan-style pie, hard cheese, Italian cheese or the ultra-thin tortilla based thin pizza crust which will blow your mind.
Still others delight in a sweet bite of pineapple (whether or not it’s an acceptable pizza ingredient is a debate for another time).
One thing that everybody can agree on, though, is the central importance of cheese. Hot, gooey, melty, soft, stringy, delicious cheese. The more, the better.
But what cheese goes on pizza, anyway? Is there an all-purpose exemplar, or is it an anything-goes affair? Let’s do some investigating.
Does The Best Cheese for Pizza Actually Exist?
Yes and no.
When it comes right down to it, you could put just about any kind of cheese you wanted on your pizza. Southern Californians, for example, are partial to their barbecue chicken pies, which are often finished with a mixture of mozzarella, ricotta cheese, smoked gouda, sharp cheddar as well as a variety of popular cheeses.
In other areas, a dairy DNA test might reveal fontina, Muenster, provolone, Jack, or Swiss in your pizza’s cheese makeup.
This isn’t an accident, nor is it an attempt to pull a fast one on unsuspecting diners or stretch a dwindling supply of superior cheese.
All of these varieties are qualified amongst different pizza makers and make a good addition to a beautiful pizza sauce.
“Find out about the 3 sauces for your Pizza which will never let you down HERE“
Much Ado About Mozzarella
What is it about mozzarella that makes it so perfect for pizza?
As it happens, mozzarella cheese owes its status as an untouchable topping not to any one specific quality, but to three. All of them have to do with its unique composition.
Mozzarella is, comparatively speaking, a very wet cheese with a noticeable elasticity. Thanks to its high water content, it melts quickly and evenly.
By contrast, hard, dry cheeses like parmesan have a way of shriveling up and becoming brittle when exposed to heat.
You may have learned this the hard way if you’ve ever tried to substitute a low-moisture cheese for a high-moisture one in a pinch.
For an ordinary cheese to get promoted to pizza cheese, it must be able to melt well (meltability), but not too much that it turns into a soupy, inedible mess.
Mozzarella’s abundant moisture and semi-soft body give it a sort of springy, elastic consistency that makes it a cinch to cut and a joy to bite into, especially once it’s had a chance to cool off a tad. Other cheeses – even some of the who’s-who melters – just can’t keep up in the pliability department.
Along with being wetter, mozzarella is also significantly lower in sugar than a lot of other cheeses. As a result, it cooks up to a golden-brown finish almost effortlessly without burning or losing its toothsome texture. Try getting halloumi or Camembert to do that.
NB – don’t burn your pizza! Here is a step by step guide on how long to reheat your pizza.
Mozzarella Cheese 101
Not all mozzarella is made alike.
In fact, characterizing mozzarella as a single type of cheese isn’t entirely accurate. There are actually several different types, some of which lend themselves to blanketing pillowy disks of freshly-made dough better than others.
As you probably guessed, fresh mozzarella is made with fresh milk—traditionally that of a buffalo.
Old-school buffalo milk mozzarella usually comes vacuum-sealed or steeped in brine for short-term preservation and is best enjoyed within a few days of being made, when it’s still delicate, supple, and flavorful.
Fresh mozzarella is molto buono when grated or sliced and scattered over a homemade pizza, so long as you drain and dry it thoroughly beforehand.
Low-moisture part-skim mozzarella was invented to solve fresh mozzarella’s two biggest problems: excess moisture and a brief shelf life.
It melts just as efficiently as the fresh stuff, but without any of the soggy, watery aftermath that can sometimes occur. It’s hard to argue with that kind of performance.
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of pre-shredded, bulk-bagged mozzarella that finds its way onto supermarket shelves and pizzeria prep lines is part-skim.
Low-Moisture Mozzarella and Whole-Milk Mozzarella
The beauty that is low-moisture mozzarella cheese has a lower moisture content due to prolonging the ‘souring’ process on fresh mozzarella cheese.
Not only is the moisture content lower, but low-moisture mozzarella cheese also lasts longer due to it’s longer shelf life.
Another top-tier offering, whole-milk mozzarella has a drier texture that’s balanced by an elevated fat content. Its rich, salty, buttery notes make it a hit with chefs and connoisseurs of artisanal pies which is often preferred over standard cheddar cheese.
There are only a couple of caveats for working with low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella.
One is that it can be tough to find it in stores, since it isn’t in as high demand as its fresh or part-skim counterparts. The other is that it gets a little greasy when heated, though this is easy enough to remedy with some careful blotting.
Related reading – find incredible pizza recipe content at your fingertips.
What is Parmesan Cheese?
According to Wikipedia, parmesan cheese is derived from the Italian name ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano’ and is a hard and granular cheese produced from cow’s milk.
In fact, parmesan cheese is made from unpasteurised cow’s milk which involves storing the milk in large tanks with the aim of separating the cream.
While some pizza lovers like to exclusively use parmesan cheese on a Margherita, this is not a very common approach.
A high-level breakdown of the remaining process in making parmesan involves the dairy farmers adding whey which contains a mix of thermophilic lactic acid bacteria.
One of the final steps in this process is increasing the temperatures to roughly 33–35 °C (91–95 °F) which is then left to sit for roughly 45 – 60 minutes.
Parmesan cheese is considered to be one of the top cheeses by traditional cheese connoisseurs, however, this does not mean that it is the best type of cheese to garnish on your cheese pizza.
What is Provolone Cheese?
Castello Cheese wrote a helpful article explaining how provolone is made, what it is and what you can expect from provolone cheese.
According to their piece, provolone is ‘Spun from stretched curd and initially too soft to place on shelves, this semi-hard cheese is known to take on a wide range of shapes and sizes. Opening with hints of nuts and salty undertones, it is smooth, mild and full of character’.
The process of making provolone cheese is somewhat different from parmesan cheese. Firstly the milk comes enriched (added) with a natural whey and rennet which will then form the curd.
Due to provolone’s popularity and heritage unique to the region of Val Padana, the ingredients added to provolone are the magic to creating it’s unique flavours and characteristics.
Once the substance has been rested, the curd is then cut, separated and then drained of any additional whey to avoid excess.
Now, this is where the provolone making process gets interesting! Trained and skilled workers will then shape the uncured cheese and weave it into a tightly woven rondure in order to remove any trace of air or air bubbles.
Once this process is done, the provolone cheese is strung up for the maturing process. The maturing process will then last for a minimum of two months before being sent off to the shops.
Other Pizzeria-Approved Cheeses
Mozzarella may be the undisputed heavyweight champion of cheeses, but it’s not your only option – not by a long shot.
Here’s a short list of outstanding selections that have what it takes to stand proudly atop the World’s Greatest Food:
Velveeta (you read that right)
When it comes to pizza cheeses, mozzarella cheese is a fan favourite.
Whether you’re getting your slice on at home or at your favorite neighborhood spot, you can’t beat the original.
For best results, go with well-drained fresh, part-skim, or low-moisture mozzarella or low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella, and be sure to use a heavy hand when applying it.
That said, there’s a whole universe of wonderful melting cheeses out there just begging to be savored with your homemade pizza dough and tomato sauce.
It may be worth experimenting with some of them if you want to introduce some diversity into your diet and expand your pizza-eating horizons.