There are nearly 70,000 pizzerias in the United States, so it can be an ongoing task to set yours apart from the one down the street. Amidst the flurry of social media, email marketing, signage and promotions, did you ever consider what your cheese can do to help your business stand out?
While mozzarella will always be the cheese of choice for pizza, many pizzeria operators have discovered that using a custom blend of cheeses gives their pizzas a unique taste that customers notice—and crave.
Cheese blending offers both functionality and flavor, says Mark “The Cheese Dude” Todd, culinary consultant for the California Milk Advisory Board in Modesto, California. “Different cheeses will give you the stretch, coverage and browning you need as well as build a unique flavor profile,” he says. “The good thing is, there’s virtually no cheese you can’t make work on pizza.”
Recipe and photo provided by the California Milk Advisory Board
3 oz. pesto sauce
Spread pesto sauce thinly over crust; sprinkle evenly with garlic. Sprinkle with Pesto Jack, then with mozzarella. Bake at 475°F until the crust has a golden edge and crisp bottom and cheese is slightly browned. Garnish with Dry Jack and basil leaves.
According to Ed Zimmerman, president of The Food Connector in Petaluma, California, the most popular cheese blend used by most pizzerias is a mix of mozzarella, provolone and Parmesan. “Cheese is the ‘center of the plate’ for pizza,” Zimmerman says. “The more an operator can differentiate himself and add value, the more consumers will notice that difference and keep coming back.”
Ruth Gresser, owner of Pizzeria Paradiso (eatyourpizza.com) in Washington, D.C., and Alexandria, Virginia, and author of the upcoming book Kitchen Workshop—Pizza, agrees that cheese should never be an afterthought. “Think of the cheese as a variable topping, not as a given,” she says. “When creating pizza combinations, it’s important to consider cheese—or cheeses—that enhance the other toppings; focus on flavor, texture and the pizza as a whole.”
So are you ready to do a little experimenting? “Every cheese blend usually starts with part-skim mozzarella, or ‘pizza cheese,’ as its primary component,” Todd says. “Part-skim mozzarella melts, flows and browns well, so it’s a good bulk cheese.” The standard blending ratios are 80/10/10 or 80/20, with the typical additions being cheddar, provolone, whole-milk mozzarella and Monterey Jack. “If you want to set yourself apart, use 80% part-skim mozzarella, 10% cheddar, and 10% of something with a lot of flavor, such as blue cheese, smoked mozzarella or pepper Jack,” he advises. “Even if you get a base blend from your distributor, you can still add in your own special cheese to maximize the flavor.”
Looking for a quick blend? Add one of the following cheeses to your mozzarella for an easy flavor twist.
White pizzas have become very popular over the past few years, so here are some common blends for them. Start with a base of soft cheese, such as ricotta, then add:
Mozzarella, Romano, Parmesan
For her part, Gresser is a self-described “Gorgonzola girl.” She adds, “That’s an important addition to our Quattro Formaggi, which is actually a five-cheese pizza, with the other four being mozzarella, Pecorino Toscano, Fontina and Parmesan. I’ve tried mascarpone as a foundation for a pizza, and I find it too runny, but mixed with cream cheese, it’s perfect.”
When considering cheese blends, many pizzerias leave it up to the pros to blend their cheese, since cheese manufacturers and distributors can now provide small batches that are highly customized. “Custom blending from a manufacturer will produce a more consistent and food-safe product,” Zimmerman says. “Most operators don’t have the proper equipment to shred and blend in-house; the cheese is too thick and, without weighing, pizza makers will apply too much.”“Mozzarella has to carry the majority, so it determines the flavor,” Zimmerman notes. “Also, mozzarella tends to be the least expensive, so it balances the cost. I love 50-50 mozzarella and provolone; it really kicks in the flavor. Any blend that features higher-flavor products such as Asiago, Fontina or Parmesan will wow customers. The key is to add enough to actually taste the other cheeses.”
Recipe and photo provided by the California Milk Advisory Board
3 oz. mole poblano/pizza sauce blend (use regular pizza sauce or herbed tomato paste, depending on thickness of mole)
Spread mole poblano/pizza sauce blend evenly over crust. Blend Oaxaca, Asadero and Queso Quesadilla cheeses; sprinkle over sauce. Top with Queso Enchilado. Bake at 475°F until crust has a golden edge and crisp bottom and cheese is slightly browned. Top with cilantro, pepitas and sesame seeds.
If you’re going to spend time blending your own cheeses—or pay someone else to blend them for you—don’t forget to market this new offering to guests and potential guests. A house blend will differentiate your pies from your competitors’ fare. “Promote, promote, promote on everything—menus, online ordering, signs in the store,” Zimmerman says. “’Welcome to ABC Pizza—Home of the X Blend.’”
In addition to marketing your cheeses, let your customers have access to them anywhere they want on your menu, making full use of your inventory. “List the cheeses you use in the premade specialty pizza section as well as in the build-your-own section of your menu,” Todd suggests. “Give customers the opportunity to experience your ingredients wherever they want them—on pizza, sandwiches, salads, etc. You’ll make better use of your inventory, and your customers will have a more customized food experience.”
Testing the Limits
Combining and blending cheeses can be a lot of fun, but even cheese has its limits. Use too much or too many, and you end up losing money and flavor. Most agree that there’s a limit to how many cheeses you should use at the same time before the cheese loses its distinction (goodbye, 10-cheese pizza), and there may even be a few cheeses that are best left unblended. “I like using buffalo mozzarella alone,” Gresser says. “I find that if I use it with other cheeses, the subtle flavors of the buffalo get lost.”
There are hundreds of cheese combinations depending on the flavor you’re seeking and the function you desire. Toppings add a whole new element when you consider the nuances of savory and sweet when combined with different blends. There’s not much that won’t work, so have fun with it and show your customers all that cheese can do.