Pizza Cheese 101

Blistering and golden. The soft bubbling, oozing layer of cheese, the crown jewel of any pizza. Such a perfect cheese blend has some demanding requirements. It must have the right flavor, elasticity, an easy melting point, and of course, the most scientific measure: ooey-gooey-ness.

In other words, cheese is no laughing matter. With a wide range of properties from moisture to fat content, there’s many different ways a cheese can affect the pizza as a whole. Combining cheeses is a great way to create more complex flavor profiles and new textures and styles.

Without further ado, here is our list of the best cheeses to use on a pizza:

MOZZARELLA

Accounting for almost a third of all pizzas made in the United States, mozzarella is the most popular cheese used in pizzas. In fact, traditional pizzas such as Neopolitans and Margheritas have a strict mozzarella-only policy. And for good reason: its light and creamy flavor complements all possible toppings and variations. Easy texture and meltability allows for those oh-so-satisfying cheese pulls. Use a processed mozzarella as it it tends to be low-moisture which will preserve the pizza’s integrity. Fresh mozzarella, which is high-moisture, works better portioned out as it will spread while cooking and to prevent moisture from gathering.

With mozzarella reigning supreme, is there room for other cheeses?

Of course there is.

PROVOLONE

It’s not just for turkey sandwiches. Provolone is a mild cheese similar to mozzarella depending on how long its aged. A longer-age will offer a sharper taste which contrasts well when mixed with mozzarella.

RICOTTA

Dollops of soft delicate ricotta spread across a pizza pie really take it to another level. Normally used in white sauce pizzas, this Italian whey cheese has become a popular pizza topper.

CHEDDAR

Good o’ faithful cheddar is a great addition to any pizza. Commonly found on specialty pizzas like buffalo chicken and cheeseburger, it adds an unexpected kick when mixed with milder cheeses.

GRUYERE

Creamy, rich, and nutty. This decadent cheese choice works well with a variety of toppings particularly those that are earthy and robust (potato, ham, caramelized onion, mushroom). Mixing it with mozzarella will also lessen the likelihood of burnt cheese.

GOAT CHEESE

With its distinct and somewhat pungent taste, goat cheese is a powerful ally. It softens rather than melts and may not be as elastic as other cheeses. But its properties are secondary to its game changing flavor profile and ability to pair with more urbane ingredients like truffles, mushrooms, figs, and prosciutto.

BRICK CHEESE

Brick cheese is used in the similarly-shaped Detroit pizza, which is built from the cheese up. The creamy Wisconsin cheese is placed on the dough resulting in a thick buttery crust outlined with a satisfyingly crispy edge. Though popular throughout the Midwest and Northeast, it may be harder to find in other areas. A comparable substitute would be a mixture of Muenster or Monterey Jack.

PROVEL

This cheese product is beloved by its hometown of St. Louis. A combination of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone, this pale cheese is actually a combination of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone. With a low melting point, it hits the ooey-gooey mark. Provel is exclusive to St. Louis’ regional pizza with its thin cracker-like crust as its other distinguishing feature.

PARMESAN (Parmigiano-Reggiano)

The final flourish on a fresh slice is a few generous shakes of the parmesan shaker. Not only is it more cheese but the salty undertones really help take the pizza to another level. It’s best to use parmesan as garnish as it doesn’t do well with heat.

Even though there’s a science behind it all, pizza cheese is also an art. When in doubt, follow your heart.

— Amanda Yam