Just try to stump Mark Todd with a question about pizza cheese—or any kind of cheese for that matter. It’s likely impossible. As a consultant for Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, the California Milk Advisory Board, the U.S. Dairy Export Council and others, Todd probably knows American-made cheeses better than anyone alive. But he has also traveled the world to learn the science, craft and art of cheese-making in other cultures. It’s no wonder he’s known as The Cheese Dude.

Over the years, Todd has generously shared his wisdom and knowledge with PMQ readers. In a previous interview, Brian Hernandez, our associate editor and coordinator of the U.S. Pizza Team, asked him a couple of questions for startup pizzeria operators. Here’s what Todd had to say.

Brian Hernandez: What should a new pizzeria operator look for when choosing a cheese?

Mark Todd: Decide who your target market is. Entry-level pizza fans or more affluent, seasoned pizza veterans? For a higher-end pizza, you want to have blends that give the desired melting and browning characteristics, but you also want to focus on the flavor. The people in that market are looking for more flavor in their product. I would use a 50-50 blend of part-skim and a flavorful mix of whole-milk cheeses.

For the entry-level pizza eaters, you can go with a 75% or 80% part-skim mozz—because it’s the least expensive but will still give you a great brown—and 20% of a reasonably priced cheese that will give you a good melt and flow while imparting some flavor.

Related: The Cheese Dude abides: Talking pizza cheeses with Mark Todd

Now, that’s not to say the entry-level market does not want great flavor, too, but you should think about quality as well as quantity and see where the scales lean for your particular market. The best answer is to meet in the middle for both markets. We all want the same high quality and flavor. It’s just a matter of how much we can spend as consumers.

One good tip is to keep your cheese blends separated by components. You can put down your base layer of whole-milk for your big flavors, spread and coverage, then add your part-skim afterwards to achieve optimal browning on top. This could save you money since you don’t need to use as much part-skim on top to achieve the same browning as you would if it was premixed with the whole-milk. It can also help you target both markets without using the same cheese. Adjust your recipes and create higher-end specialties while still offering the entry-level pies. Now you have both markets, and everyone is happy, and so is your bottom line.

But the best mix, even separated, is still 50-50. Train your staff thoroughly as to why you do it this way. Make them understand the build, flavors and characteristics of each blend. You can create any blend, even if the components are separate, but you cannot separate a blend once it’s mixed. [Keeping your blend components separated] gives you infinitely more control. Make the cheese work for you!

Hernandez: What are your thoughts on making fresh mozzarella in-house?

Todd: It’s not for everyone. There are numerous additional costs that come along with it: first, all of the ingredients, and second, the manpower and labor costs.

If a restaurant claims they are making fresh in-house mozz, I would put 1,000 of my favorite dollars down that they are buying frozen curds, then stretching it in-house. Someone else is basically making the cheese, and the in-house version is just the final step. That is called “pulling” mozzarella, and that is not “making” mozzarella.

Making mozzarella is not easy to do. It’s time-consuming, and any number of things can go wrong in the process. It takes years of practice to perfect, and it’s very easy to turn true fresh mozzarella into a hockey puck. It’s not something I would recommend for the average person. Practice that craft before you even entertain the thought of doing it in a working restaurant.

One final thought: Cheese is a 10-to-1 ratio. For every ten kilos of milk you use, you yield one kilo of cheese. Just make sure to factor in that math.

Food & Ingredients