For a moment, forget everything you know about pizza. Forget about the usual mozzarella-driven cheese blend on top, forget about the crust you expect from a pie, and forget about the aroma you’ve come to expect from your favorite feel-good meal.
Alright, now that we’re working with a clean slate, it’s time to learn about the St. Louis-style pizza and why it is a regional fan favorite.
What kind of cheese is on a St. Louis-style pizza?
If that gooey, melty cheese on a St. Louis pie looks unfamiliar, there’s a good reason for that. St. Louis-style pizza is topped with Provel cheese, a processed blend that is said to be a mix of cheddar, provolone, and Swiss cheeses, yet tastes unlike any one cheese in that trio.
Folks may disagree on the flavor profile of Provel, but this is objective fact: Provel melts better than any of them, because that’s what it was designed to do. With extra fat and moisture added during its production, Provel is the meltiest “cheese” out there.
What else makes St. Louis-style pizza so unique?
The ultra thin crust of St. Louis-style pie is made with unleavened, yeast-free dough, giving it a texture that is more akin to a cracker than traditional pizza crust. The crispy crust is capable of supporting a whole lot of toppings, and that’s a good thing since they like to pile the toppings high in The Gateway City.
St. Louis-style pies can be topped with the standards, like pepperoni and mushroom, but bacon may rank as the most popular add-on to this non-traditional pizza spinoff. And, yes, it jibes just fine with the rest of the pie. With crispy pork bits and crunchy crust sandwiching melty Provel cheese, bacon-topped St. Louis pizza is a textural sensation that should not be missed.
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The ultimate day-after slice.
We could sit here all day and discuss the merits of every style of pizza (No, really, we can. This is how the staff of The Sauce spends most of its waking hours). We’re not here to tell you that one style of pizza is superior to another, but we can confidently say that St. Louis pizza holds up nicely as a day-after treat thanks to its unorthodox cheese and superbly thin crust.
Noted chef and Serious Eats author J. Kenji López-Alt reached a similar conclusion as he wheeled out of STL on a road trip through the Midwest.
“The dough [is] a little more dense and resilient than standard pizza dough, giving it an abnormally long shelf life. You know how day old pizza can get a little leathery in the crust? Not so with Imo’s!,” López-Alt said of a leftover pie from a famed St. Louis chain. “That cracker is still a cracker the next day and even the third, whether you deign to refrigerate or not. That, my friends, is the magic of Provel.”
“What’s even more magical about Provel is what happens to it the next day. Ready for it? Practically nothing. That stuff is nearly as creamy, gooey, and shamefully delicious eaten out of the box in the car at room temperature the second day as it is fresh out of the oven. Forget cold, congealed mozzarella. Gimme Provel for my day-old pizza, please.”
It’s far, far different from the traditional pizza of Naples, Italy, but St. Louis-style pizza has found a massive following of its own for good reason. Now that you know the basics, we encourage you to order up a pie that can be enjoyed over the course of multiple meals.