Why you should care
You love pizza. I love pizza. Your mom loves pizza. Who doesn’t want to make it even better?
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There’s an art to cooking pizza. But there’s also a science. Chemistry and physics play a part as much as sensibilities. But only you know what makes your taste buds dance across a slice. When it comes to cheese (the best part, right?), an international group of food science researchers can help you figure out the best blend to make your mouth water. And smile.
Scientists from China, New Zealand and the U.K. have studied how the cheese on pizza browns and bubbles: quantifiable measures that could determine how appealing a pie looks and, potentially, how tasty it will be. They recently published their findings in a report, “Quantification of Pizza Baking Properties of Different Cheeses, and Their Correlation with Cheese Functionality” in the Journal of Food Science. Fromage favorites Colby, Edam, Gruyère and provolone were analyzed for moisture, oil and galactose (a sugar found in dairy), among other aspects — all of which affect how cheese melts. High-moisture cheeses release more steam in the oven, forming bubbles. Oil in the cheese can weigh down the bubbles and lead to less browning.
Want it crispy, brown and bubbly? Go with pure mozzarella all the way.
Pizza experts concede, happily, there’s no one correct answer to perfect cheese. “It’s very subjective,” says Craig Agranoff, self-proclaimed “Pizza Expert” and founder of the Worst Pizza website. It takes a combination of art and science and depends on the type of pizza — whether thin slice or upside-down Sicilian or coal-fired. Scott Wiener, a New York-based professional pizza tour guide and writer for Pizza Today magazine, agrees. “There are all sorts of angles to consider,” including cheese pull, mouth feel, heat insulation and fat emission.
Here’s what to do if you want your pizza pie’s cheese chewier or crispier or bubblier, according to the scientists:
Crispy, brown and bubbly: Go with pure mozzarella, all the way. This traditional topper presents challenges — of all the cheeses tested in the study, its results varied most widely — but mozz has the most moisture and least free oil when it bakes. Hence more brown bits.
Smoothed out: Mix mozzarella with another cheese. Gruyère and provolone produce more oil, which leads to a less browned top and a smoother mouthfeel. Provolone acts almost like a liquid when melted at pizza-baking temperatures. Combining the two could also reduce the spottiness across the pie that mozzarella creates.
Uniform: Wetter cheeses melt with more elasticity. Mixing a low-elasticity cheese like Colby with mozzarella keeps the color more uniform and melts with few bubbles. Also try cheddar and Edam.
But try not to get too bogged down in the science. “You have to try to make pizza suck,” says Agranoff. “At the end of the day, we’re talking about dough, sauce and cheese. It’s very hard to mess those things up.”