If you think about it, most pizzas are topped with some kind of cheese. But when we order a pizza for take-out, buy it frozen, or make pizza at home, how often do we think about what kind of cheese is on it?
Cheese is one of the most important toppings on a pizza, and often one of the most overlooked. It’s become very easy to accept bagged, shredded mozzarella as the standard pizza cheese, or its more alluring kin labeled “pizza cheese”. I admit that shredded cheese is convenient, and I have used it, but just how much flavor does it contribute to the pizza?
I don’t want to criticize anyone’s choice of cheese; I simply want to encourage grillers to be creative and be willing to try new kinds of cheese on their pizza. It’s not difficult to find new cheese choices. Many grocery stores have added cheese sections in their produce, fresh foods or deli departments. These cheese sections offer a great selection of domestic and foreign cheeses. This is where you’ll find other great choices like fontina, balled mozzarella, different types of goat cheese, smoked mozzarella, smoked gouda, Parmigiano-Reggiano, etc. While you will have to pull out your box grater, the effort to shred the cheese is minimal compared to the incredibly fresh flavor that these cheeses contribute to the pizza. Also, the price per pound of many of these cheeses is comparable to pre-shredded cheeses (manufacturers will typically charge extra for shredding it).
If you are looking for an alternative to a bagged, shredded mozzarella, try cheeses like fontina or smoked mozzarella. Fontina is a mild, creamy cheese with a nutty flavor. Our kids love fontina on their pepperoni pizza. Another family favorite is smoked mozzarella. While it has a stronger flavor than fontina, it’s a really nice base for the traditional pizza toppings like spinach and bell peppers, complimenting their subtle flavors.
If you want some cheeses with bolder flavors try bleu cheese, stilton or gorgonzola with toppings like mushrooms and beef. These rich, earthy flavors are a perfect match.
If you are creating specialty pizzas with toppings like lobster, you may choose something like goat cheese, which is mild with a distinct texture.
Finally, a Margherita pizza deserves the highest quality mozzarella you can find. Sometimes your local market will carry a gourmet brand, like the one made by Narragansett Creamery in Providence, RI. While a couple dollars more than the regular brand of balled mozzarella cheese, selecting a cheese like this for a simple pizza with three ingredients means the difference between an ordinary and extraordinary pizza.
Grillers, have fun experimenting with different cheeses on your pizzas. We look forward to hearing about some of your favorite combinations in comments.