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Where's the cheese?


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5 replies to this topic

#1 phaelon56

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 05:55 AM

Although I didn't grow up in NYC I fondly recall the "street pizza" that was ubiquitous there and in many other parts of the Northeast for many years. My own town had a pizzeria run by a Staten Island expatriate who brought his recipe up to central NY state and passed it on to his son, who continued the business.

The element that appeared to be shared in common by nearly all these pizzas was the wonderfully gooey, gloppy mozzarella cheese. Some had better crust or sauce than others but I rarely found any fault in the cheese. Some years ago, probably in early to mid 90's, I began to notice a change in many places.

The cheese now had a different flavor - one that I had less appreciation for than plain old mozzarella. It also had different melting characteristics and a different mouthfeel - all less satisfying. Initially I thought that many places had just switched to a cheaper brand of mozzarella until I began noticing pre-printed color posters in many of these shops, touting the fact that "We proudly serve Grande cheese blend".

The difference is significant. My brother, hardly a foodie or a discerning eater, has long maintained that the aforementioned pizzeria in our home town serves the best pie he's ever eaten,, After a four or five year absence he came for a visit and we went there to have a few slices. Halfway through the first slice he looked at me and said "It's not the same - they changed something and this isn't the same pizza that I loved so much". I stepped back into the shop and checked - sure enough... there was the "Grande cheese blend" poster on the wall.

Here's an article from Pizzatoday.com that discusses blended cheese and references the Grande product among others.

Strength in Numbers: blended cheeses add much to flavor profile of cheeses

The contention of the suppliers and some who use these blends is that it's all about more distinct and improved flavors. I can't help but think that there's a unit cost issue involved or they're trying to mask inferior dough and sauce by using more strongly flavored cheeses. Perhaps it's yet another conspiracy by the Wisconsin cheese industry to suck even more market share than they already have? (I just spotted some "genuine English cheddar" in the store that was labeled as being produced in England but sure enough... it had been packaged and shipped from Wisconsin!)

What do you think?

Disclaimer: when I make pizza at home I often blend cheese but it's typically very small amounts of fresh grated Asiago, Parmesan or Romano added as an accent - not as a dominant flavor.

#2 Peter Reinhart

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 09:30 AM

Although I didn't grow up in NYC I fondly recall the "street pizza" that was ubiquitous there and in many other parts of the Northeast for many years. My own town had a pizzeria run by a Staten Island expatriate who brought his recipe up to central NY state and passed it on to his son, who continued the business.

The element that appeared to be shared in common by nearly all these pizzas was the wonderfully gooey, gloppy mozzarella cheese.  Some had better crust or sauce than others but I rarely found any fault in the cheese. Some years ago, probably in early to mid 90's, I began to notice a change in many places.

The cheese now had a different flavor - one that I had less appreciation for than plain old mozzarella. It also had different melting characteristics and a different mouthfeel - all less satisfying.  Initially I thought that many places had just switched to a cheaper brand of mozzarella until I began noticing pre-printed color posters in many of these shops, touting the fact that "We proudly serve Grande cheese blend".

The difference is significant.  My brother, hardly a foodie or a discerning eater, has long maintained that the aforementioned pizzeria in our home town serves the best pie he's ever eaten,, After a four or five year absence he came for a visit and we went there to have a few slices.  Halfway through the first slice he looked at me and said "It's not the same - they changed something and this isn't the same pizza that I loved so much".  I stepped back into the shop and checked - sure enough...  there was the "Grande cheese blend" poster on the wall.

Here's an article from Pizzatoday.com that discusses blended cheese and references the Grande product among others.

Strength in Numbers: blended cheeses add much to flavor profile of cheeses

The contention of the suppliers and some who use these blends is that it's all about more distinct and improved flavors. I can't help but think that there's a unit cost issue involved or they're trying to mask inferior dough and sauce by  using more strongly flavored cheeses. Perhaps it's yet another conspiracy by the Wisconsin cheese industry to suck even more market share than they already have? (I just spotted some "genuine English cheddar" in the store that was labeled as being produced in England but sure enough...  it had been packaged and shipped from Wisconsin!)

What do you think?

Disclaimer: when I make pizza at home I often blend cheese but it's typically very small amounts of fresh grated Asiago, Parmesan or Romano added as an accent - not as a dominant flavor.

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I'm not convinced either that the Grande pizza blend is as good as just using Grande mozzarella and adding your own blending cheeses. I'd have to ask pizzeria owners if there's a price difference which would be a tip off that it could be a way for them to use up ends and seconds or skim milk (low fat) mutz. Normally, grande is one of the best pizza mutz's, especially the full fat version. Any pizzeria guys tuning in? What do you know about this?
Also, I agree with Phaelon that a small amount of dry aged cheese is all you need to buff up the flavor. I also am not against using cheddar in the blend, which I think has a nice character and melts good too. Let's hear from others about your favorite blends. By the way, there is nothing wrong with sticking simply with mutz, fresh or low moisture--it's pretty great by itself whne it's good quality. One trick for replicating wood-fired flavor in a home oven is to add a small amount of smoked mozzarella (or gouda) to the blend. Hey, we all know that pizza heads have a million tricks--let's hear some of them...

#3 phaelon56

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 10:09 AM

If I'm using fresh mozzarella I just rely on fresh basil, caramelized onions and a few other simple ingredients for topping (e.g. thin sliced chorizo that's been sauteed and blotted before adding) - typically no other cheeses.

When I use whole milk mozzarella (or part skim) I like to toss on small amounts of Asiago and Parmesan (ocasionally Romano but I find it too easy to overpower the others flavors with Romano).

I've tested blue cheese but don't care for it when tomatoes are present. The best non traditional pizza I've ever eaten (despite a lackluster crust) was the "signature pizza" for the bar menu at the music club Fez Under Time Cafe in NYC. The thin crust is brushed with olive oil and topped with thin sliced green apples, small chunks of hickory smoked bacon, sauteed red onion, walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese. It's good. Really, really good.

#4 Peter Reinhart

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 10:59 AM

If I'm using fresh mozzarella I just rely on fresh basil, caramelized onions and a few other simple ingredients for topping (e.g. thin sliced chorizo that's been sauteed and blotted before adding) - typically no other cheeses.

When I use whole milk mozzarella (or part skim) I like to toss  on small amounts of Asiago and Parmesan (ocasionally Romano but I find it too easy to overpower the others flavors with Romano).

I've tested blue cheese but don't care for it when tomatoes are present. The best non traditional pizza I've ever eaten (despite a lackluster crust) was the "signature pizza" for the bar menu at the music club Fez Under Time Cafe in NYC.  The thin crust is brushed with olive oil and topped with thin sliced green apples, small chunks of hickory smoked bacon, sauteed red onion, walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese. It's good. Really, really good.

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Thanks Phaelon. That Fez Under Time pizza topping sounds fantastic. Imagine it on a great crust--it would become legendary!
Here's a note just in from Brian Spangler, owner of The Scholl Public House outside of Portland, Oregan, one of the best new artisan pizzerias in the country (Brian is going to join me when I give my talk at the NY Pizza Show on Nov. 3). He has some good insight into this Grande situation and other thoughts, based on following our thread, and his trick of slicing the low moisture mozzarella cheese and laying it down flat to cover the crust, then putting the sauce over it, then adding the fresh mozzeralla not only protects the crust and allows it to stay crisper, but makes a beautiful looking pizza. (Note: he's not yet an e-Gullet member so couldn't send this directly, but I'm happy to relay it--thanks, Brian!):

Dear Peter,
The Grande blended cheeses are about the same price per pound as what I pay for the whole milk mutz in 7 pound loaves. No price savings in this option, but I believe that operators use the blend for several reasons.

1) Convenience and consistency. Most pizzeria operators pay young employees to make the pizzas and in doing so, must "dummy" up the system so that you get the same ratio of each cheese on the product.

2) Shelf life. The shelf life on the shredded cheeses is much longer than the shelf life on the whole blocks of cheese, due to the fact that when you shred cheese, oxidation will set in, so they fill the bags with gas (not sure what type) to stop the aging process. I believe the shelf life on the blended cheeses is about twice as long as the whole loaf.

I am not a fan of pre-blended cheeses and I am not a fan of cheddar coming anywhere near a pizza, which a lot of the pre-blended packages offer. Grande offers a Mozz, Provolone and Asiago blend as well as a Mozz, Provolone and Cheddar blend.

I use the Grande Whole Milk loaf mozz and use slices rather than shredding. We also add Grande Cilengene (fresh whole milk mozz in 1/3rd ounce balls) and a light coating of freshly shaved 2 year old Parmesan Reggiano.

#5 phaelon56

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 01:23 PM

Brian's topping method sounds fantastic and I happen to share his preference for keeping cheddar away from pizza. In Utica NY, about 30 minutes east of us, there are several pizzeria's known to locals as "sauce on top" joints that folow this practice.

Thanks for all the details on blended cheeses - it answers many questions. It sounds as though part of the rationale behind this move is akin to why Starbucks went over to superautomatic espresso machines - allows for better consistency with less highly trained or less consistent personnel (with a drop in quality being one result).

I think I'll try adopting this for my pizza at home. I'm finding that with a well heated gas oven and a 3/4" thick pizza stone, I can get a beautiful, thin and slightly charred crust. The dilemma has been that the cheese sometimes gets overcooked even though my baking time is typically five to six minutes (my oven hits 575 degrees when it's fuly ramped up).

A pizza show in NYC? Is it open to the general public?

#6 Peter Reinhart

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 01:54 PM

Brian's topping method sounds fantastic and I happen to share his preference for keeping cheddar away from pizza.  In Utica NY, about 30 minutes east of us, there are several pizzeria's known to locals as "sauce on top" joints that folow this practice. 

Thanks for all the details on blended cheeses - it answers many questions. It sounds as though part of the rationale behind this move is akin to why Starbucks went over to superautomatic espresso machines - allows for better consistency with less highly trained or less consistent personnel (with a drop in quality being one result).

I think I'll try adopting this for my pizza at home. I'm finding that with a well heated gas oven and a 3/4" thick pizza stone, I can get a beautiful, thin and slightly charred  crust. The dilemma has been that the cheese sometimes gets overcooked even though my baking time is typically five to six minutes (my oven hits 575 degrees when it's fuly ramped up).

A pizza show in NYC? Is it open to the general public?

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I'm not sure but check out the website at www.newyorkpizzashow.com or call (213) 925-2117. Normally there's a registration charge to walk the convention floor but maybe you can use an eGullet press pass or something, or say you're coming to interview me. See what happens. Let me know if you decide to come.