Mozzarella – The Official Cheese for Pizza
Mozzarella comes in three main varieties. Fresh mozzarella, deli mozzarella and whatever that stuff is in the big brand cheese isle. If you have never used fresh mozzarella you simply must give it a try.
When you want shredded mozzarella cheese, the best cheese to use is deli-style mozzarella. Most grocery stores sell mozzarella from a block in their deli department. Instead of getting it sliced, just ask for a chunk and shred it at home later with a box grater. Using deli cheese instead of bagged shredded mozzarella cheese will provide a richer and creamier cheese flavor and often it comes out to be cheaper by the pound as well.
Best Mozzarella Brand
Amongst the readily available brands of deli mozzarella there is overall little difference and certainly not enough to go out of one’s way to obtain a specific brand. I do however lean toward the Whole Foods whole milk mozzarella, usually sold in pre-cut block custom wrapped by the deli, when needing a shredded cheese for a pizza. It is slightly closer to fresh mozzarella in it’s consistency than other brands however still a deli style mozzarella. It melts well and has a rich creamy taste.
Whole Milk Mozzarella vs. Part Skim Milk Mozzarella
The biggest difference you will find between deli mozzarella is varieties made from whole milk and part skim milk. The whole milk mozzarella, with only a gram or two more fat per serving has more flavor with a more creamy cheese texture. Overall the use of whole milk and additional fat gives it a more satisfying taste; because of that, you will likely use less of the whole milk mozzarella cheese to get the same satisfying cheese taste than you will of the part-skim mozzarella. Ultimately making the decrease in fat a non issue for those watching their fat intake; which is the case for most low fat foods.
Smoked Fresh Mozzarella
Smoked mozzarella is a smoke-cured cheese made from fresh mozzarella. Smoked mozzarella is most commonly available in 8 ounce balls and has a yellowish-brown outer skin. The edible skin is created from exposure to smoke during the smoking process. The texture is a bit drier due to the smoking process than the standard, fresh mozzarella but has a strong, smoky flavor on the outside and a lighter flavor on the inside. Consider using smoked mozzarella mixed with standard, fresh mozzarella as an accent flavor. Smoked mozzarella is generally available at specialty grocery and cheese stores and has a longer shelf life than standard, fresh mozzarella.
Sizes of Fresh Mozzarella
Fresh mozzarella is known by various names depending on its size and shape. The pound log and half pound balls are the most common sizes found in grocery stores and are the perfect size for slicing. The other sizes are much smaller including ovoline (4oz), bocconcini (1.5oz), ciliegine (13g), noccioline (9g), perle (4g) and finally, perline (1g). Fresh mozzarella can be found either at the deli counter or pre-packaged in the refrigerated cheese section.
Aged or Italian Provolone
Provolone is a semi-hard Italian cheese which is similar to Provola and Provoleta. In the United States Italian Provolone is often referred to as Aged Provolone. The taste of Provolone can vary depending on the length of aging from a sweet mild flavor with a more creamy texture, short aging time, to a distinct piquant taste and dryer texture, longer aging time. Any variety makes an excellent cheese to mix in with mozzarella to add a bit more flavor to it or as a final garnish after cooking.
In the United States there is also a type of cheese called Provolone that is sold at most deli counters, usually in a round log. This type of provolone can be a great cheese to use for pizza; slightly drier than deli mozzarella but still melts well. It does have a miniscule difference in flavor but would be over shadowed by any toppings and nothing like its Italian counterpart. If you want the provolone flavor opt for an italian or aged variety mixed with with shredded mozzarella.
Aged Italian Hard Cheeses
Authentic Aged Italian Hard cheeses are amazing additions to any pizza either grated or shaved they add the finishing touch that will make your pizza shine. However due to their delicate flavors and dryness you should never put them in the oven. Heat destroys the flavor of all cheeses to some degree and there is just no reason to cook these cheeses. Most people has had the American made versions of these cheeses generally labeled as Parmesan, not the Kraft grated cheese, and Romano sold in wedges; they are good in their own right but do not compare to the complex piquant flavors of the authentic Italian variety.
Parmigiano Reggiano is the DOP (Denominazione di origine protetta) and PDO (Protected designation of origin) certified product from Parma, Italy that has been aged for 12-36 months. This shouldn’t be confused with products labeled as Parmesan which is aged generally less than 9 months and substantially inferior in flavor, made from cows fed more than just grass and hay and from pasteurized milk. Parmigiano Reggiano has a more crumbly texture, nutty flavor that is far more intense and created using natural techniques and strict breed and diet from the cows. It also contains a significantly less salt, the high salt levels in American made Parmesan cheese is a major contributor to its flavor .
Grana Padano is also a DOP and PDO certified cheese from Italy aged 8-20 months with varieties aged over 20 months designated as Grana Padano Riserva. It is similar in taste to Parmigiano Reggiano but with less stringent laws governing its production area, breed and diet of cows and thus the cheese tends to be less expensive.
Pecorino Romano is a DOP and PDO certified cheese made in Tuscany from sheep milk and aged 8 or more months. The aging process and use of sheep’s milk gives this cheese the most unique piquant flavor of the three cheeses. Ramono made in the United States is generally labeled as just Romano and is often made from mostly if not all cow’s milk and aged for a shorter amount of time resulting in a more bland cheese in comparison to authentic Pecorino Romano.
Smoked Gouda is a smoke cured yellow cheese made from cow’s milk from Gouda, Netherlands. The cheese has an editable skin and is generally on the creamier side in texture like young wax sealed Gouda wheels but with a strong smoky flavor. The cheese is best used diced up on pizza as it doesn’t melt well but when warmed does have a very thick creamy texture. It combines well with bacon, caramelized onions, or roasted vegetables. Works great mixed one part Smoked Gouda with four parts Mozzarella.
Blue (Bleu) Cheese
Crumbled Blue Cheese combines well with fresh bright flavored vegetables such as cherry tomato and arugula. You can use it crumbled on the bottom layer or create a blue cheese béchamel sauce as the sauce layer. The natural molds that create the distinct flavor of blue cheese can be quite strong so a lot can go a long way.
Cream Cheeses (Goat Cheese, Cream Cheese, Boursin and Mascarpone)
Cream style cheeses can be a great alternative cheese as they can be used alone or infused with herbs and other flavors. Try using these as a spread on crust of a flat bread pizza or as small chunks scattered over the dough. These cheeses are best to use cold and on the bottom as they burn easily.
Tips When Using Cheese on Pizza
- Use cold cheese to prevent cheese from over cooking and possibly burning.
- Don’t use too much cheese. 4-6 ounces of cheese is an appropriate amount of cheese for a 13″ thin crust or NYC style pizza.
- Cheeses to avoid on pizza: processed cheese or oily cheeses such as Velveeta, American cheese and Cheddar or pre-shredded cheese.
- Always add hard cheeses after the pizza has cooked to preserve their deliciate flavors. When shredded they will soften quickly with the residual heat from the pizza.