By Tracy Morin
Cheese is both a delight driver and a premium ingredient in terms of cost, so maximizing its usage can make a real difference in profits and customer satisfaction. In fact, Mark “The Cheese Dude” Todd, a cheese education and promotion consultant based in Monte Rio, California, believes that cheese is the single most important ingredient on a pizza. “You want to highlight it and make it the star,” he says. “You can have a great crust and sauce, but if the cheese is awful, you won’t get repeat business.”
To make the most of your cheeses in terms of inventory, profits and customer relations, we rounded up a heap of helpful suggestions from industry experts. They share, in their own words, how to do a lot with a little—from scaling and portioning to maximizing across the menu.
The Importance of Maximizing Cheese
Maximizing cheese profitability in the world of pizzerias is not just a business strategy; it’s become a philosophy that drives my approach to creating memorable culinary experiences. It’s important for so many reasons:
- Cost management: Cheese plays a starring role in the art of pizza making. It’s not just an ingredient; it’s a centerpiece. In my restaurants, where quality is non-negotiable, every ounce of cheese counts toward our financial success. Finding innovative ways to make the most of this precious ingredient has been instrumental in our cost management strategy.
- Pricing competitiveness: Maximizing cheese profitability allows us to maintain affordable prices without compromising on the taste and quality that our loyal customers expect.
- Sustainability: Reducing cheese waste isn’t just about saving money; it’s a reflection of our commitment to minimizing our environmental footprint. We take pride in being eco-conscious.
- Consistency and quality: As anyone in the pizza business knows, consistency is key. Cheese is a fundamental element of the taste we promise. Accurate portioning ensures that every pizza we serve lives up to our high standards.
- Customer satisfaction: Nothing makes us happier than seeing our customers relish their pizza experience. The perfect cheese-to-topping ratio is essential for that.
- Profitability: On the business side of things, maximizing cheese profitability isn’t just about financial gains; it’s about securing the future of our restaurants. It empowers us to invest in innovation and provide job stability for our dedicated staff.
Investing in top-notch equipment for precise cheese portioning and scaling has been transformative for our business. It streamlines our operations, reduces labor costs and ensures consistent excellence across all of our establishments. It’s an investment in efficiency and, ultimately, in our lasting success.
Weights and Measures
Expert: Lisabet “LB” Summa, executive culinary director and chef partner, Big Time Restaurant Group, West Palm Beach, FL
When portioning cheeses, we like to use grams vs. ounces. This helps with accuracy and accounting for variances. For instance, if you are aiming for 4 ounces and you use 3.5 ounces, that’s 25% under—or, conversely, at 4.5, you’re 25% over. If you calculate in grams, those same 4 ounces equal 112 grams. If you allow a ¼-ounce variance, that could be 105 to 112 grams as a target, which visually and numerically gives you a broader range to consider.
“When portioning cheeses, we like to use grams vs. ounces. This helps with accuracy and accounting for variances.”
Lisabet Summa, Big Time Restaurant Group
Expert: Dan Coudreaut, pizzaiolo/owner, Lantern Pizza Co., Downers Grove, IL
For maximizing cheese and reducing waste, training is so important. Here’s what has worked for me: When training cheese portioning, we use a scale and a clean bowl to allow the team to practice and gain the feel of how much our portion size of cheese is, and then validate it with the scale. They can practice it often to get better, and they even compete to see who gets it dead-on. I then wrap one of our 12” service platters (the same size as our pizzas) with plastic wrap and let them practice placing/distributing the correct amount of cheese to get a visual understanding of how much cheese to use.
“If you’re not using a scale, you’re shortchanging yourself and your customers, because you want to make the same pizza every time. ”
Mark “The Cheese Dude” Todd
Expert: Mark Todd, “The Cheese Dude,” cheese education and promotion consultant, Monte Rio, CA
The more pizza you make every day, the more critical it is to maximize profits on each one. There is less pressure to use portion control in a smaller-size operation, but when Pizza Hut cuts 1/10 of an ounce of cheese per inch of pizza, that makes a huge difference. The industry standard is to use 0.45 to 0.5 ounce of cheese per square inch of pizza.
Cheese needs to provide five things: coverage, color, aroma, flavor and texture. Use whatever blend gets you all five with the minimum amount needed. For example, blue cheese will give you a lot of aroma and flavor, but not much coverage. Part-skim mozzarella gives color and browning but less coverage, whereas Monterey Jack, used at 10% to 20% in a blend, will add great coverage. (Monterey Jack has a higher price point, but it helps you get better coverage with less.) Also, it depends on the kind of pizza you’re making—a quattro formaggi needs a lot of cheese, while a Hawaiian is more about the other toppings.
Cross-utilize your cheeses across the menu to reduce waste. If you carry blue cheese for salad, great—use it for your wings and pizza. If you use ricotta for a dessert, highlight it on your pizza and appetizers. I’ve seen pizzerias that sell nachos make pizzas with queso on top. Having more cheeses at all points of the menu—salads, appetizers, desserts—makes you stand out. Also keep in mind ways to prolong cheese. Grated Parm starts going bad the minute you open it, while a chunk of fresh Parmesan will last longer, as it’s freshly grated upon each serving.
One area I see pizzeria operators failing on is the mathematics—the different areas related to sizing and diameter. A 16” ounce pie needs 75% more cheese for coverage than a 12”. I use the rule of 5-7-9-11: Use 5 ounces of cheese on a 12”, 7 on a 14”, 9 on a 16”, and 11 on an 18”. And if you’re not using a scale, you’re shortchanging yourself and your customers, because you want to make the same pizza every time. The goal is not to make the least expensive pizza, but to be the pizzeria that consistently delights your customers.
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s copy editor.