Cheese is an essential ingredient that can make or break any pizza. With hundreds of cheese varieties to choose from, pizza makers have to carefully select the right cheese type that will complement the crust, sauce, and toppings.
The two most popular choices are mozzarella and cheese blends. But what is the difference between these two cheeses? And which one is better suited for pizza baking?
Key Takeaway: Both blend cheese and mozzarella cheese have their pros and cons. Blend cheese offers more flavor variety but mozzarella has better melting properties. The optimal choice depends on the type of pizza being made.
Overview of Mozzarella Cheese
Mozzarella is a soft, white cheese that originated in Italy. It is made from the milk of water buffalos and has a distinctive milky, mild flavor. Fresh mozzarella has a high moisture content and comes packed in liquid. Low-moisture mozzarella is aged longer, giving it a firmer texture and saltier taste. The low moisture content is ideal for melting and browning in a pizza oven without becoming soggy.
Key properties of mozzarella cheese:
- Made from water buffalo milk
- Soft, creamy texture
- Mild, milky flavor
- High moisture when fresh, lower moisture when aged
- Melts and stretches well when baked
Mozzarella is the number one choice for traditional Neapolitan and Margherita pizzas. It can be used on its own or paired with other cheeses like Parmesan or cheddar in a blend. The mild flavor pairs well with most toppings and allows other ingredients to shine.
Overview of Cheese Blends
A cheese blend combines two or more types of cheese in varying ratios. Blends allow pizza makers to create customized cheese with unique flavors, textures, meltability, and stretch. By tweaking the cheese ratio, they can achieve the desired baking properties.
Common pizza cheese blends include:
- Mozzarella and provolone
- Mozzarella and cheddar
- Mozzarella, provolone and Parmesan
- Mozzarella, cheddar and Monterey Jack
- Mozzarella, Swiss and Parmesan
Benefits of using a cheese blend:
- More complex, robust cheese flavor
- Can optimize melt, stretch, and browning
- Provides flavor versatility for different pizza styles
- Allows customization for each pizza recipe
Key Differences Between Mozzarella and Cheese Blends
While both mozzarella and cheese blends have their place in pizza making, there are some notable differences between them:
1. Flavor Profile
The flavor of mozzarella is mild, creamy, and delicate. It acts as a blank canvas that allows the other pizza toppings to shine.
Cheese blends have a more complex flavor profile by combining multiple cheese varieties. For example, a blend of mozzarella, provolone, and cheddar would offer a mix of milky, nutty, sharp notes.
2. Melting Properties
Mozzarella has the best melting capability out of any pizza cheese. It can turn into a smooth, even layer without clumping or becoming greasy. This makes it perfect for Neapolitan and New York style pizzas.
The melting properties of a blend depends on the recipe. Blends with high mozzarella content will melt well. But some aged, hard cheeses like Parmesan may not melt smoothly. Finding the right balance is key.
3. Browning Capability
Mozzarella browns lightly to a pale golden color in a pizza oven. This allows the crumb and toppings to brown without the cheese burning.
Blends with sharp cheddar or Swiss cheese tend to brown faster. So the bake time needs to be adjusted to avoid over-browning the cheese.
When pizza slices are pulled apart, mozzarella forms distinctive long, elastic strands. This gives it that quintessential pizza cheese look and mouthfeel.
Blend cheeses don't always achieve that same level of stretch. But provolone and young Swiss cheese can help improve stretchability in a blend.
Mozzarella is moderately priced since it's such a common pizza cheese. Using only one cheese keeps costs lower.
Blends made with premium, specialized cheeses can get pricey. But blending small amounts of pricier cheese into mozzarella can create gourmet flavor at a reasonable cost.
6. Recipe Suitability
Mozzarella works beautifully in traditional Italian pizzas like Margherita and marinara pizzas. It also pairs well with basic toppings like pepperoni and veggies.
Blends allow more creativity in terms of globally inspired pizzas. A cheddar-Gruyere-mozzarella blend can suit a French onion pizza. Manchego-mozzarella-Parmesan work for a Spanish chorizo pie.
Choosing the Right Cheese for Your Pizza
With all of their differences laid out, how do you decide between using mozzarella versus a blend? Here are some tips:
- For traditional, Italian-style pizzas like Margherita, go with good quality mozzarella as your topping cheese.
- If you want rich, complex cheese flavor, use a customized blend of your choice.
- To save on cost, use mostly mozzarella and add smaller amounts of pricier cheeses into a blend.
- For pizzas with bold, spicy toppings, stick with mild mozzarella or a mozzarella-dominated blend.
- For gourmet pizzas with evocative flavors, create an artisanal blend with high-quality imported cheeses.
- For maximum stretchability, use mozzarella or blends with a high proportion of mozzarella.
- For an authentic Neapolitan pizza, use only mozzarella made from water buffalo milk.
The recipe, desired results, budget, and target customers should all factor into the cheese decision. With experimentation, pizza makers can find their own winning cheese formula.
Key Takeaway: Mozzarella works best for traditional Italian pizzas while blends allow more creativity for gourmet global pizzas. The optimal choice depends on the recipe, desired flavor/texture, and budget.
Factors that Impact Browning and Meltability
For the best tasting pizza, the cheese needs to melt smoothly across the surface and take on appetizing browning. What makes some cheeses better at melting and browning than others?
Cheeses with higher moisture content melt more easily since they are softer and the water helps them spread out. However, excess moisture can make the melted cheese watery and compromise browning.
Low-moisture cheeses don't melt as readily but are better able to brown and caramelize. This makes low-moisture mozzarella a perfect pizza cheese.
Higher fat cheeses melt better due to their lower protein-to-fat ratio. The fat gets softer and begins melting at a lower temperature than protein does. But excessive fat can also lead to an oily, greasy melted cheese.
Low-fat cheeses don't melt or stretch as well. If using low-fat cheeses, mix them with higher fat cheeses to improve the meltability.
Most cheeses melt between 150-160°F. To achieve a nice melt along with good browning, the pizza oven needs to be 500°F or higher. Standard home ovens don't get hot enough for proper pizza cheese melting.
Higher acidity makes cheese melt more smoothly. Young cheeses are more acidic and melt better than sharply flavored aged cheeses. Blending small amounts of acidic cheese like Parmesan into mozzarella can enhance meltability.
Tips for Getting the Best Results from Pizza Cheese
Baking pizza that is oozing with perfectly melted, browned cheese requires the right techniques. Here are tips for pizza makers to optimize their cheese:
- Use low-moisture whole milk mozzarella. Part-skim has more moisture and doesn't brown as well.
- Shred cheese yourself instead of buying pre-shredded bags. The starch coatings prevent proper melting.
- Drain excess moisture from fresh mozzarella by wrapping in paper towels before topping pizza.
- Grate hard cheeses like Parmesan very finely so they melt into the other cheeses.
- Pre-bake casserole style pizzas to melt cheese before adding final toppings.
- Mix multiple cheeses for better meltability. Aged cheeses paired with mozzarella improve smoothness.
- For Neapolitan pies, use water buffalo mozzarella which has more fat and melts better than cow's milk mozzarella.
- Use a pizza stone, steel, or cast iron skillet to crisp up the crust and enable cheese to melt optimally.
- Cook at the highest oven temperature possible, ideally around 500°F.
With the right cheese choice and preparation methods, pizza makers can achieve the perfect melted, browned pizza cheese. A little trial and error helps dial in the ideal cheese formula.
Key Takeaway: Low-moisture mozzarella, whole milk cheeses, proper shredding, and high heat are keys to great pizza cheese melt and browning.
Innovative Cheese Blend Ideas for Gourmet Pizza
One advantage of cheese blends is the creativity they allow. Blending Italian cheeses like mozzarella and Parmesan is common. But pizza makers can expand the possibilities with unique ingredient combinations. Here are some innovative blend ideas to try:
Oaxaca + cotija + cheddar + mozzarella
This blend combines the stretchy melt of Oaxacan string cheese with the salty punch of cotija and cheddar. It would suit Mexican-style pizzas loaded with beans, salsa, and guacamole.
Brie + Camembert + mozzarella
For a rich, elegant cheese profile, blend the soft ripened flavors of brie and Camembert with mozzarella. Pair it with caramelized onions, prosciutto, and arugula.
Feta + halloumi + mozzarella + Parmesan
Feta and halloumi add a briny, salty tang that complements the sweetness of onion and peppers on a Greek pizza. Parmesan boosts the umami.
Paneer + gouda + mozzarella
Paneer and gouda combined with mozzarella mimics the flavors of popular Indian cheese dishes like paneer makhani. Top with tandoori chicken.
Mozzarella + Parmesan + pepper jack + queso fresco
This highly flavorful blend pairs nicely with teriyaki chicken, shrimp tempura, and scallions atop a Japanese pizza.
The options are endless when blend cheeses. Pizza makers should taste different cheese combinations to find ones that best represent the flavors of their pizza recipes.
Common FAQs about Pizza Cheese
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about selecting cheese for pizza:
Is mozzarella the best cheese for pizza?
Mozzarella is the most commonly used pizza cheese. Its meltability and mild flavor does make it an excellent choice. However, other cheeses like provolone, Parmesan, and cheddar can also taste great on pizza in the right combinations.
Why do pizzerias use cheese blends?
Blends allow pizzerias to create more complex, robust cheese flavors. They can also customize the meltability and stretch by selecting specific cheese ratios. It provides consistency between batches.
What is the best ratio for a pizza cheese blend?
There is no set ideal ratio. A 50/50 mozzarella and provolone blend is common. Some pizzerias use a 60/40 mozzarella to other cheese ratio. Play with ratios to achieve your desired texture and flavor.
Is it OK to use just cheddar cheese on pizza?
While cheddar isn't ideal on its own due to browning issues, mixing it as part of a blend can work. Use a higher proportion of mozzarella and limit cheddar to 30% or less of the total.
How can I prevent my cheese from burning on pizza?
Use low-moisture mozzarella, keep the cheese layer thin, pre-bake the pizza, and monitor it closely. Burning happens when cheese is overcooked, so lower oven temp and less bake time helps.
Does expensive cheese make better pizza?
Not necessarily. Low-cost cheeses like mozzarella melt beautifully. But premium cheeses like Parmesan or aged cheddar can add impressive flavor to blends when used sparingly.
Both mozzarella and blended cheeses have a place in pizza making. Mozzarella is the tried and true choice valued for its melt, browning, and stretch. It works beautifully in traditional Neapolitan and Margherita pizzas.
Cheese blends allow creativity and a wider range of flavor profiles. Blends can also be customized for optimal texture. While more specialized, they require careful balancing to achieve good browning and melt.
For the best results, pizza makers should use a high-quality, low-moisture mozzarella as the bulk of their cheese. Smaller portions of aged, hard cheeses can then be blended in to suit the recipe. Experimenting with different cheese combos is key to developing signature pies that will have customers hooked!