Are you prepared for the Mozza-pocalypse?
Mozzarella is an island unto itself. It is one of those foods that never needs a description. Be it pronounced as “motsa,” “mutz,” “moosa,” or “mozza,” the effect is the same to any hungry listener’s muscle memory. That long, oozy, stringy pull, deep cream taste and strong chew needs no further elaboration. Mozzarella is the king of cheese in almost every pizzeria and for you and me, the quality of our mozzarella can establish or blemish our reputation, drive customers either to or from our stores and — with its deep fluctuations in price — drive all of us insane and/or to the poor house.
Despite the cost of serving mozzarella on every pizza, this cheese is a great accompaniment to countless pizza toppings because of its mild taste, which heightens the topping to taste king and sets the mozzarella back to a secondary flavor role. The best asset of mozzarella is its textural melt and chew, which can be enhanced with other cheeses to transform the ‘mutz’ from a predictable pizza into an extravagant experience.
Five Horsemen of the Mozza-pocalypse
Here are five cheeses to add to mozzarella for a revelatory experience:
- Feta or Chevre. The sour-saltiness of feta and fresh creamed chevre enhance mozzarella perfectly. Fruit such as apples, pear, figs and blackberries create a pizza that is heavenly.
Artichoke hearts, spinach, olives, red onions, tomatoes, garlic lemon, scallions, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms are great combinations with goat cheeses, but don’t forget balsamic glaze, fig jam, walnuts, almonds, pistachios and greens to finish these pies off.
- Pecorino Romano. This sheep’s milk cheese was a staple for
Roman legionnaires, but some of today’s Romano is made from cow’s milk. Arugula and walnuts are bodacious with Pecorino, as well as polenta, Parmigiano, cauliflower, chili peppers, truffles, watercress, mushrooms, basil and arugula pesto, pears, parsley, broccoli and sweet bell peppers. These pizzas can be finished nicely with eggs, grapes, greens, balsamic, parsley and a spritz of lemon.
- Gorgonzola. This big blue adds the flavorful strength to mozzarellas chewy pull, especially with the added sweetness and textural qualities of honey, fennel, apples, nuts, fig jam, persimmon, walnuts and pears. Caramelized onion, roasted leeks and pecans also do well on these pizzas. Don’t forget cayenne, celery, dates, dill, peaches, plums, radishes, thyme, crème fraiche and mascarpone.
- Pepper Jack. This semi-soft cheese melts perfectly with mozzarella while still giving a great flavor kick. Bell peppers and chilies go well with this flavor combination: Tortillas, (crushed like in my Big Southwest Beef and Corn Pie recipe) plums, pumpkin seeds, salsa, pecans, quince paste, corn, cilantro, basil and beans. Lime juice and olives, along with swiss chard, salsa, shredded romaine and even Korean kimchi, are great finishers on this pie.
- Smoked Gouda. This cheese is expensive, but small shredded amounts with mozzarella can be a game changer. This cheese never melts well with a long oven time, so add it at the end of the bake or after the oven. Like smoked mozzarella, complimentary toppings can include arugula, roasted bell peppers, green olives, scallion, tomato, basil, rosemary, spinach, asparagus, artichokes and onions. Finish this pizza with cherries, apricot and honey, as well as walnuts, pine nuts and blackberries. I love any beef topping with smoked cheeses for a rough and tumble pizza that you’ll never forget.
Big Southwest Beef and Corn Pie with Pepper Jack
This pizza really shows off the local beef that I get at my pizzeria. Mixed with Southwest spice, it is perfect with mozzarella and the mild kick of pepper jack cheese. The sweet corn melds an amazing weave with the cream, tortilla and cilantro that makes you want to gobble this baby up.
Calabrian Salami and Double Pecorino Pizza
I was first introduced to this pizza by World Pizza Champion Bruno di Fabio. Its combination of melting mozzarella, grated Pecorino and crispy Pecorino coins really rocks! The cheeses are great partners to the sweet peppers, and the bright green immature olives against the melting and fatty red salami is stunning.
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio, and is an award-winning pizzaiolo, baker, teacher, speaker and author.