What Is Pizza Without Cheese Called?

Pizza comes in all kinds of varieties, with endless combinations of toppings and crust styles. Cheese is one of the most ideal pizza toppings, so much so that it's hard to imagine pizza without it.

What Is Pizza Without Cheese Called

However, one of the oldest forms of pizza, the pizza marinara, completely misses cheese from its simple ingredients list.

So what do you call a pizza that skips the cheese?

Pizza Marinara: The Original Cheeseless Pizza

The pizza marinara dates all the way back to 1734 in Naples, Italy. Legend has it that this sauce-topped pizza originated as a favorite affordable meal of poor Italian sailors and fishermen who needed food that was inexpensive and could last on long sea voyages.

True to its name, the marinara pizza features a topping of marinara sauce made from tomatoes, olive oil, oregano, garlic, and sometimes basil or peppers. The marinara is spread atop a thin Neapolitan-style crust and baked until crispy.

That's it - no cheese in sight. In Rome, anchovies are commonly added to the marinara sauce for a saltier flavor.

So the first known style of modern pizza had no cheese at all. The pizza marinara proves that an authentic pizza does not need cheese to still be considered true pizza, at least by traditional Italian standards.

Key Takeaway: Pizza marinara is the original cheeseless pizza dating back to 1734. It's topped with just marinara sauce, olive oil and herbs.

Is Pizza Without Cheese Still Pizza?

While the pizza marinara's status as a veritable pizza is undisputed in Italy, elsewhere the debate over whether a cheeseless flatbread disk can rightly be called pizza continues.

For some pizza traditionalists like myself, a pizza is defined by the crust - as long as an authentic dough and crust is used as the base, I consider it a pizza regardless of toppings.

On the other hand, more casual pizza fans may argue that a flatbread without cheese fails to meet the criteria for pizza. The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) in Italy definitively recognizes marinara as an authentic pizza, but no such official standards exist in most other countries.

So whether or not pizza without cheese qualifies as "real pizza" is largely subjective based on personal opinion outside of Italy. The choice of ingredients like cheese certainly influences the style and flavor of pizza, but not every ingredient is a strict requirement in order for it to be considered true pizza.

Popular Styles Of Pizza Without Cheese

While the pizza marinara is undoubtedly the original and best-known style of cheeseless pizza, Italy and beyond has spawned numerous other pizzas that forego the cheese course.

Pizza Bianca

Pizza bianca translates to "white pizza" in Italian. As its name suggests, this pizza omits the traditional red tomato sauce and instead tops its crust with olive oil, salt, rosemary, garlic and other herbs and seasonings.

Occasionally pizza bianca will be topped with cheese, but the classic version does not include it. This is an excellent gluten-free and dairy-free pizza option.

Pizza Rossa

Pizza rossa, meaning "red pizza", seems like the opposite of pizza bianca. However, while it includes tomato sauce, pizza rossa also traditionally omits cheese in favor of toppings like vegetables, salami, prosciutto, peppers, onions and olives.

Aglio E Olio Pizza

Taking a cue from the popular pasta, aglio e olio pizza features a garlic and olive oil-based sauce instead of tomato or cream. Toppings like hot pepper flakes, Parmesan cheese (optional), basil and roasted vegetables complement the zesty garlic notes.

Pizza Marinara con Verdure

This variety of marinara pizza foregoes anchovies but keeps the cheese off. Instead, the marinara sauce is topped with an assortment of fresh vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, artichokes or onions.

Tofu "Cheese" Pizza

Vegans don't have to give up their cheesy pizza fix. Pizzas topped with a creamy mixture of blended tofu, miso paste, nuts, seeds and spices mimic the rich, savory taste of cheese without using any dairy products. Cashew cheese is another popular vegan substitute.

Benefits Of Pizza Without Cheese

Eating pizza without gobs of mozzarella certainly has some health advantages:

  • Fewer overall calories than loaded cheese pizzas
  • Less saturated fat and sodium
  • No cholesterol
  • Great for lactose intolerant diners
  • Accommodates vegan diets

For those who don't want to give up cheese's creamy deliciousness altogether, using just a sprinkle of a flavorful, low-moisture cheese like Parmesan instead of heaps of mozzarella still cuts down on calories.

Fresh mozzarella made from milk also makes a lighter, less processed alternative to the typical shredded pizza cheese blend.

Key Takeaway: In addition to traditional marinara, popular cheeseless pizza styles include white pizza, red pizza with vegetables instead of cheese, and vegan pizzas using dairy-free cheese substitutes.


Is pizza marinara healthy?

Yes, pizza marinara can be a healthy pizza choice since it doesn't contain cheese or meat toppings that add calories, fat or cholesterol. Using a thin, Neapolitan-style crust with minimal added oil or salt keeps it relatively light. Load up on veggie toppings for more nutritional value.

What do you put on pizza instead of cheese?

There are endless creative possibilities for cheeseless pizza toppings! Classics include marinara or olive oil-based sauces, garlic, onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, eggplant, zucchini and fresh basil and oregano.

Vegan substitutes like tofu ricotta, cashew cheese or miso "cheese" also mimic the texture and saltiness of dairy cheese. Drizzled pesto makes another flavorful, cheese-free topping.

Can you order pizza without cheese from chain restaurants?

Yes, most national pizza chains like Pizza Hut, Domino's and Papa John's offer the option to order any pizza without cheese. Just ask for a cheeseless pizza when placing your order.

For the crust, the gluten-free option tends to be dairy-free as well for vegans and those with medical dairy restrictions.

Do Italians ever add cheese to pizza marinara?

No. Authentic pizza marinara in Italy never has added cheese since the original Neapolitan version did not include it. At most, a light sprinkling of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese may garnish some pizza marinara recipes. But the bulk of the flavor comes from the zesty tomato marinara sauce and herbs.

This preserves the simplicity and preservability that made pizza marinara popular for poorer Italians and sailors centuries ago.


A hot, cheesy, gooey slice of pizza can seem like the peak of comfort food for many pizza fans. But just because pizza has become nearly interchangeable with melted mozzarella in recent decades doesn't make cheese a required ingredient.

In fact, some of the earliest pizza recipes like the seminal pizza marinara completely skipped cheese from their modest toppings. This tomato sauce-based original pizza has centuries of tradition backing its status as an authentic cheese-free pizza.

These days a pizza without cheese might seem like an extreme concept to some. But the pizza marinara and similar styles like the pizza Bianca and Rossa prove that excellent pizza does not have to include cheese, at least according to tradition.

The recipe creativity doesn't have to stop at sauce-topped pies either. Loads of nutritious vegetables, diverse herbs and spices, vegan cheese alternatives and other plant-based ingredients can make cheeseless pizza every bit as crave-worthy as its cheesier counterparts.

AGAH Productions
AGAH Productions