Article and Photos by Brian Hernandez

Loading down a pizza with countless toppings may create the appearance of value, but is your customer actually missing out on the whole pizza experience? U.S. Pizza Team (USPT) premiere member Daniel Saccone says yes, absolutely. The owner of Saccone’s Pizza in Leander, Texas, and a veteran competitor, Saccone has seen numerous fads come through the arena, all the while thinking his cheese pizza could beat those crazy creations. He was right.

Saccone has competed consistently over the past 19 years and officially became a competing member of the USPT at the U.S. Pizza Cup in 2018. Most recently, he has earned four first-place titles, including Tandem Pizza Makers (with Saccone’s Pizza co-owner/partner Jon Garland) and Best Pasta, and made it to the nontraditional semifinals at the Galbani Professionale Pizza Cup, held at last fall’s Pizza Tomorrow Summit in Orlando. There, he took second place with—you guessed it—a simple (but hardly plain) cheese pizza.

Also in 2023, Saccone gained USPT Premiere member status—and earned the team’s coveted black chef coat—by winning the America’s Best Cheese Slice competition in Atlantic City. Always using recipes pulled right from his menu, Saccone is a firm believer in competing with the ingredients you use every day. 

James Binner Sr., director of sales for Lactalis America Group, awards Saccone his peel at the 2023 Galbani Professionale Pizza Cup during the Pizza Tomorrow Summit in Orlando.

Brian Hernandez: Tell us about your push to bring the America’s Best Cheese Slice competition into existence. 

Daniel Saccone: These events have gotten a lot more competitive, and, as the years go by, I think the competitors are better and better. It’s more nontraditional now. When you put seven different kind of mushrooms or six different pepperonis on it…it’s just really gotten to be a gourmet category. I always thought cheese levels that playing field, because everybody’s competing with the same thing. The only difference is their blend of cheese, their sauce, their dough. It’s still the same ingredients. Whereas if you’re doing the traditional category and somebody uses pepperoni, sausage or mushroom, it changes the playing field and becomes more [about] a flavor profile. The cheese pizza flavor profile is limited to the same ingredients for all the competitors. We all use different cheeses and tomatoes and mix our sauces differently, so it makes for a very unique category, even though it’s just cheese.

Hernandez: How long have you been advocating for a cheese-only event?

Saccone: I pushed hard for the last 15 years for this event, and I’m sure I probably pissed some people off, because I was so adamant. Luckily, the right people were listening and thinking the same thing. I think the showrunners managed that competition right. I mean, there were 60 competitors there. 

Hernandez: You won with the cheese pizza on your menu. Did you change anything from your menu recipe for the competition pizza?

Saccone: Nothing. My ingredients are always right out of the walk-in at the shop. I’ve always just run to the store the night before and grabbed my ingredients for the competition.

Hernandez: Why did you choose to compete with a cheese pizza at the Galbani Professionale Pizza Cup in Orlando?

Saccone: Knowing this was an open category and a USPT event, I wanted to come support the team and show that [a cheese pizza] can stand up against the field….My best pie is cheese, so that’s what I brought. 

Hernandez: Isn’t that kind of like bringing a knife to a gunfight?

Saccone: When you have true traditional judges, they appreciate that small knife in the gunfight—the true traditionalism of a cheese pizza. 

Hernandez: How can competitors stand out in a cheese-only event?

Saccone: I believe in quality. That’s part of the equation, but it’s also a balance of everything. Measure your cheese. I always tell my employees it’s not about the cost. To me, it’s about consistency. And when you can put just the right amount of cheese on a pie…it’s that blend that comes together. It’s like any other recipe—trying to get that right balance of cheese, sauce and dough. I’ve always prided myself on the way we do our dough now. I switched to Italian flour. It doubled my flour cost, but I felt, after seeing the quality of the dough and flour in Europe, that I wanted to change. There’s a complex flavor in the dough, and that’s always important to me. I’ll give up a little bit of the firmness and the crust for that flavor, but it comes down to that balance. I think that’s what really makes it.

Hernandez: Does the rarity of a cheese pizza in competitions sway the judges?

Saccone: From my own judging experience, you’re seeing all these off-the-rails pizzas coming through. Crazy combinations with drizzles, garnishes…all the bells and whistles. Then, they get that one flavorful, well-executed traditional pie. I think that stands out, because you got away from all the extras.   

Read the full interview article and watch the video at For more information about the U.S. Pizza Team, contact

Marketing, US Pizza Team