On my way to a memorial service the other day I stopped for a slice of pizza at Naples 45 in Grand Central Station in New York. Adam Kuban, Nick Solares, and others have told me and written about the slices they have been selling there in the last year or so. This memorial service happened to be a block from the pizzeria, and memorial services don't usually feature much in the way of food: hence my stop for a slice.
I ordered a slice of Margherita D.O.C., which appeared to be freshly made. It turned out to be hot enough, with a surprisingly good, pliant crust and what tasted like simple crushed packaged tomatoes as a sauce. The cheese tasted like buffalo mozzarella, which was fine except for one thing: it, and therefore the slice as a whole, lacked salt. This rather elaborate and elongated intro leads me to the topic of this rant: cheese on pizza.
I know I am committing pizza purist heresy here, but I have to have a certain amount of saltiness emanating from the topping of the pizza. That means simple unadorned fiore de latte, or fresh unsalted mozzarella, or even buffalo mozzarella, on their own, unadorned with nothing added, do not cut it for me. So if a pizza is going to have only one kind of cheese as a topping, I prefer high-quality aged, low-moisture, whole milk mozzarella, which has a distinctly salty taste. Pizza police, I know I am going to become a wanted man with this proclamation, but so be it. I can take the heat.
Of course this doesn't mean that using only aged mozzarella is the one single way to please me, cheese-wise.
Anthony Mangieri at Una Pizza Napoletana solves the salt problem by throwing a handful of Sicilian sea salt on his Margherita, which features excellent buffalo mozzarella. The legendary Domenico DeMarco uses four cheeses, I believe: fresh mozzarella, Grana Padano, aged mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano, the last one being the saltiest one of the bunch. One of the things that makes so much New Haven pizza so good is that they use Pecorino Romano and aged mozzarella on almost every pie that comes out of those great pizza ovens. One way or another, I believe great pizza needs a certain amount of saltiness to be great. Accomplished pizzaiolos know this and have come up with many saline solutions (ha!). Every great pizza maker I know, from the aformentioned Mangieri, Chris Bianco, to Nick Lesons at Great Lake, to Brian Spangler at Apizza Scholls, to Nancy Silverton at Mozza, understands this truth to be self-evident.
Here's the esteemed Mr. Kuban's take on the topic:
Yeah. Given the choice, I'll almost always go with the "aged" whole-milk mozzarella (aka "regular mozzarella") over the fresh stuff. It's got a bit more flavor.
Plus, I really like when it gets to that point where it's almost burned. Not BURNED burned, but dotted with bits of browned, crisp cheese. It gives the pizza an extra dimension of flavor and texture. A little nutty, maybe, and chewy in a good way. Ideally, those spots are mixed with bits of perfectly melted, oozy, creamy cheese.
My take on fresh mozzarella is that it can make for an amazing pizza experience—only if the crust and sauce are flavorful. If those other components are bland, adding another bland layer on there ain't doing much.
Adam wrote a great post about the different types of mozzarella.
So am I crazy, serious Slice'rs? Is Mr. Kuban pizzafully deranged? Do tell.