The Art of Pizza, Chapter Three: Cheese

Note: This is the third part of a series on how to make your own pizza written by our very own Kimmi.  The first part, on making dough, can be found here. The second part, on making sauce, can be found here.

You can’t have a pizza without cheese. If you do, call it a tomato pie, or something. Because it’s just not pizza.

Now, I heard a lot of you discussing in the comments to Part 2 exactly how much sauce to put on a pizza. There’s only one rule here: don’t make a Fail Pizza. This variant fail pizza is defined as the sauce falling through the crust and onto your hands, causing burns. Don’t Do That. Otherwise, a pizza is like a symphony — harmonize your ingredients. A thinner crust generally wants less sauce, but a Sicilian can take as much as you’ll ever want.

Oh! But we weren’t here to talk about sauce, we were here to talk about cheese. Specifically, cheese and toppings! Now, cheese is the perfect place to do oil-based cooking… that means garlic, oregano, mexican oregano — and especially black pepper. Be creative. It’s pretty easy to tell when ingredients (basil) aren’t working well with oil-based cooking.

You can put toppings on a pizza that aren’t oil-based, but watch how long you cook ’em! Mushrooms, for example, even if cut thin, will take at least ten minutes (and often more like twenty). If you’re putting something delicate on top (basil) either add it nearly at the end, or put it mostly under the cheese (in which case, consider whether you’d have done better to put it in the sauce in the first place).

How much cheese do you put on a pizza? Well, if you want to do it “gourmet” style, you leave a bit of tomato showing through. But real pizzeria style pizza covers the entire pie. This doesn’t mean you need a lot of cheese — I generally get by with less than 4 oz. for a 10inch (two person) pizza.

What kind of cheese should you use? Mozzarella, or American-style Provalone. My favorite is Costco’s 5lb. bags of shredded. Cheap (a bit over $2/lb), convenient, and melts well. That’s the primary point of why you’re using these cheeses, after all.

Yes, if you love asiago, or half a dozen other exotic cheese, use a bit on top as flavoring. The cheese on pizza is mozzarella, anything else is a topping, and to be distributed accordingly.

Like meat on your pizza? Fine and dandy, but please, please, use a good cut of pepperoni (or better yet, season up some sausage.) There’s nothing worse than having a yellow lake of pepperoni grease all over a good pizza. Just my opinion, you understand — but if you’re going to all the trouble of making a pizza yourself — enjoy it.

If you’re going to put garlic on your pizza, chop it fine — or slice it fine. Don’t leave it as cloves, that’s way too much for one bite.

Cooking:

I’ll be straight with you. I don’t have a pizza stone. Yes, I know every marketeer has one, and they all swear it will make your pizza awesome. Well, I happen to think I make awesome pizza (everyone I’ve served agrees).

To make a plain pizza pie:

Put the dough on the pizza plate (cookie sheet works fine), preheat the oven to 400 degrees (I use the convection setting — I’ve done it on grill setting on my Sharp Microwave/Convection oven — folks, you can make a fabulous pizza in an apartment).

Put the dough in the oven for about 5 minutes (may get puffy, don’t worry, that’s kinda expected).

Pull it out, and then add the sauce and the cheese and any toppings.

Put it back in, and in about 10 minutes, you should have golden cheese and a fine pizza that isn’t floppy in your hands.

To make a mushroom pizza pie (or anything else that produces extreme amounts of water):

Put the entire pizza together before putting it in the oven (dough, then sauce, then cheese, then all the mushrooms cut thin and in a flat layer). Cook for about 10 minutes (until mushrooms start to shrivel). Add any additional toppings (pepper and the like, you didn’t want them just on the mushrooms did you?), and cook for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is crispy.

Cost:

20 cents for the flour
5 cents combined for the salt and the yeast (buy costco yeast, or bribe a friend to do it, it is insanely cheap).
52 cents for the cheese (a bit under 4 oz).
50 cents for the sauce (alright, I’m rounding).
10 cents for garlic and spices
50 cents for the electric oven
7 cents for the gas stove (cooking the sauce)

That’s $1.94 for two people (or makes two meals if you’re dining alone).

[photo: Pepperoni Pizza Fast Food, via Wiki Commons]

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8 thoughts on “The Art of Pizza, Chapter Three: Cheese

  1. I shred my own cheese and recently discovered a previously-unused attachment for my stand mixer that does far better than the attachment I was using (the meat grinder). This shreds the cheese much finer, meaning I can get a better coating, smoother melting, and even a bit of crisping… all while using LESS cheese! Huzzah!

    I use whole milk mozzarella. If I’m going real fancy, I’ll get the fresh pulled mozzarella. But that can’t be shredded. That needs to be sliced. This is typically called a Margherita pizza here in the states (though a different, slightly sweeter plum tomato-based sauce is typically used in this preparation). But that can get expensive and creates a slightly different pizza experience. If you want to make your more typical slice pizza, whole milk mozzarella with a fine shred is the way to go. Don’t bothers with that part-skim or skim-milk crap. First off, you’re eating pizza; don’t worry about it being healthy. Second off, recent research shows that higher fat dairy products contribute to weight loss better than lower fat varieties. Third — and most important — you need that fat content to get the cheese to melt properly. Also, the difference in fat isn’t that huge when it is all said and done with. So, yea, grab a block of the whole milk stuff. If you shred it fine enough, you should be able to get 3-4 12-14″ pies out of it.

    Also, don’t be afraid to sprinkle a little salt over the top. American mozzarella tends toward the bland… especially the commercially-made stuff. Don’t go overboard but do hit it with a couple of shakes/grinds to draw out the real flavor of the cheese.

    This is where my experience working in a pizza kitchen really comes in handy!

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  2. My new favorite pizza topping is cheese. Goat cheese. I put discs of the goat cheese on top of the mozzarella. The goat cheese takes longer and higher temperature than the mozzarella to melt, so it pretty much keeps right where you put it, like little disks of pepperoni or sausage instead of blending in with the mozzarella. And it’s really tasty.

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  3. I had wanted to say this on the sauce post, but I was too late to the party, and comments closed early for some reason I do not know:

    I don’t cook the sauce, because I want the tomatoes in it to taste as fresh as possible. My sauce recipe:

    1 lg. can crushed tomoatoes
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon oregano

    stir together, let sit for 15 or 20 min.; use an immersion blender in the can if you want a smoother sauce.

    This should make four 10″ pizzas.

    **********************************************

    Cheese: I like fresh mozzarella, but it’s too moist. But This, too can be fixed. But it in a strainer with some weight on top for an hour or two, a bowl underneath to catch the drippings.

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