In the Kitchen
The pizza Chef: April-May 2015
The cheese stands alone
By Diana Cline
I’m a big fan of cheeses. Much as I believe that Canada’s present dairy class pricing system is entirely unjust, I’m hopelessly in love with Canadian cheeses.
The real ones, that is. In the past decade, more and more soy-, oil- and petroleum-based cheeses have come into the market. But in my opinion, even the best soy- and oil-based cheeses are missing something. We do carry a non-GMO, non-soy, vegan-friendly “cheese” at the cucina, specifically for clients who have requested it. But this kind of cheese is not for me: no matter what I try pairing it with, I prefer the real deal.
I recently decided to experiment and test a few cheeses on pizza: a Swiss, a garlic and chive Havarti, a cheddar, a goat cheese, a fresh buffalo mozzarella and a feta cheese. I made pizzas featuring each cheese with the same crusts and light sauce. I wanted to taste just the cheeses and assess topping possibilities from there.
Let me tell you, the garlic and chive Havarti, even years later, still made my list of top favourites for pizza. It was truly incredible, just on its own, although the higher fat content made the cheese a little too viscous without any toppings to anchor it down. When I tried it with some mildly spiced capicolla ham, I thought it was marvellous!
Next I made a smoked ham and broccoli pizza with Swiss cheese. The Swiss melted nicely and complemented the toppings. Did you know that Swiss cheese is naturally lactose-free? Consider adding it to your menu for the benefit of your lactose-intolerant customers.
Then I made a capicolla ham and asparagus pizza with olive oil and herbs sauce and smothered it with an aged sharp cheddar. This pizza had a powerful flavour: cheddar lovers beware. I think a good balance would be a half-and-half mix of mozzarella and the aged cheddar.
Because fresh buffalo mozzarella has a strong, pungent flavour, I topped the pizza more lightly than usual and paired it with marinara, capicolla ham, mushrooms and black olives on a thin crust. It was a nice balance of toppings and the flavour of the cheese didn’t get lost in the combination.
Next I made a pizza with marinara, spinach, pesto chicken breast, goat cheese and cherry tomatoes with roasted garlic. This pizza was tart and tasty, and the goat cheese had a distinctive tang that should appeal to a growing market of Canadians who have an intolerance to cow dairy.
Lastly I tried the feta. We use a dry, crumbled feta at the cucina because we find it works better on a pizza than a feta that’s been stored in brine. The excess moisture that a brine-stored feta brings can increase the gum line and ruin an otherwise fabulous pizza. I paired the feta with olive oil and herbs sauce, hot banana peppers, black olives, roasted red peppers, asparagus and artichoke hearts. I mixed the feta 50:50 with a low-fat mozzarella cheese. It was very flavourful with just the right amount of saltiness. One might not even have noticed there was no meat on this combination.
Something to keep in mind when you are thinking of using a different cheese on your pizzas is the milk-fat content. Anything higher than 32 per cent milk fat will become close to liquid in the high temperature of your pizza oven. While a Monterey Jack at 33 per cent milk fat will be fabulous on pizza, you want to consider that the end mouth feel of the cheese on your pizza still needs to have a bite to it. That is, there are plenty of really nice specialty cheeses that make wonderful fondues, but for a pizza there would not be any substance to it after it’s been baked in the high-temperature pizza oven. No one wants liquid cheese running off their slice of pizza, no matter how delicious the cheese. And the higher the fat content, the more potential there is for the pizza to burn before the crust is finished baking. In those cases, consider blending the high-fat cheese with a lower-fat mozzarella to get a balance of great flavour and bite.
It’s good to experiment. As an independent pizzeria operator, you have quite a bit of flexibility with your menu. Why not highlight a new Canadian cheese for a month or two? Create a blend all your own.
And make sure you charge accordingly for it. Premium Canadian cheeses command premium prices.
Diana Cline is a two-time Canadian Pizza Magazine chef of the year champion, internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo, owner of Diana’s Cucina & Lounge in Winnipeg, Man., and a CRFA director from 2009 to 2013. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is also a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators grow their business effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis. For more information, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.