Mozzarella: The Best Cheese For Pizza?

It’s fair to say that pizza wouldn’t be pizza without mozzarella, which was created in southern Italy centuries ago and nowadays has some of us wondering what this ‘best cheese for pizza’ is all about.

As it turns out, mozzarella belongs to the curd cheese family, referred to as ‘pasta filata’ in Italian, with curd cheeses being perfect if you’re looking for that gooey, stringy effect from your cheese. Hence why mozzarella is just groovy on pizza.

On that cheesy note, let’s cover mozzarella when it comes to pizza:

Fresh Mozzarella

Mozzarella is made from the milk of either a cow, or a water buffalo. In Italy, mozzarella made from cow’s milk is known as ‘fior di latte’, whereas mozzarella coming from buffalo milk is called ‘mozzarella di bufala.’ Both of these in their fresh form are Italian delicacies, have a similar appearance, and either can technically be used on pizza (although fior di latte is considered best). 

Fresh mozzarella is the white ball of cheese usually found in plastic packaging among a liquid brine, which is meant to be eaten as soon as possible after it’s made (ideally the same day, and in Italy preferably – but within the ‘use by’ date elsewhere in the world will do). Fresh mozzarella happens to be the stuff that’s most traditional on pizza, especially a classic Neapolitan.

Naturally, when your mission in life is to make pizza as simple as possible, there can’t just be one type of fresh mozzarella; other variations include stracciatella, burrata, bocconcini and nodini – all of which you could find a way to use with pizza. But for the purposes of actually making pizza simple, it’s really just fior di latte and mozzarella di bufala that we need to focus on for now.

Fior di Latte vs Mozzarella di Bufala

Fresh fior di latte mozzarella is generally considered to be the best cheese for pizza (Neapolitan pizza at least), mainly due to its elastic texture and subtle milky flavour, which means it compliments other pizza toppings rather than overpowering them. It’s also typically cheaper than mozzarella di Bufala.

Mozzarella di Bufala has a richer, creamier taste than fior di latte due to a higher fat content. It’s also a much wetter product, meaning it tends to make watery pizza. For that reason buffalo mozzarella is often used as a raw topping once the pizza is cooked (or you can just try to squeeze as much liquid out as possible).

Cooking Fresh Mozzarella (on Pizza) 

Fresh mozzarella (whether from cow or buffalo) can make for a soggy pizza if you’re not careful. As well as extracting as much liquid as possible from the cheese (or just patting it dry with kitchen paper) it can sometimes be worth adding the cheese to the pizza part-way through cooking – especially if using a home oven rather than a pizza oven. 

It’s because pizzas take longer to cook in a regular home oven that the cheese spends more time above its melting point (around 55C / 130°F for fresh mozzarella), resulting in more moisture seeping out of the cheese and onto the pizza. With the higher temperature and lower cooking time in a proper pizza oven, you don’t tend to get the same problem.

That said, although fresh mozzarella melts but still holds its shape under the heat of a pizza oven (because its spent less time above its melting point), it doesn’t stay melted for that long once cooked. This leads us onto yet another type of mozzarella, otherwise known as aged or low moisture mozzarella.

Aged (Low Moisture) Mozzarella

Aged or low moisture mozzarella is the cheese that’s usually found on supermarket shelves already grated, although it can be bought cubed or even in blocks so you can grate it yourself (which should be better quality). This is the stuff used to make American-style pizza, and most takeaway pizza.

The main difference between fresh mozzarella and aged low moisture mozzarella is that aged mozzarella has had the moisture from fresh mozzarella removed and is then pressed into blocks (before being grated or cubed). Aged mozzarella is harder and more yellow in colour rather than white. It also tastes slightly saltier.

Aged mozzarella is partly used for  convenience, but also because it performs better at lower temperatures than fresh mozzarella. Whereas fresh mozzarella can turn chewy and greasy under low temperatures, aged mozzarella turns perfectly stringy and gooey (and “nicely greasy,” if there’s such a thing!)

Using Aged Mozzarella 

If making New York style pizza, or any other pizza using aged mozzarella, it’s best to buy it in blocks before grating or chopping it yourself. The pre-grated stuff tends to be of lower quality and contains cellulose as an anti-caking agent which affects the taste, stretch, and melt. It’s best to grate it using a regular cheese grater (graters with smaller holes risk over-melting).

Which Mozzarella Should I Buy? (For Pizza) 

Technically, the absolute best mozzarella is the stuff with DOP certification from Italy (meaning ‘Denominazione di Origine Protetta’ or ‘Protected Designation of Origin’). This tells you that the mozzarella you’re buying is from the Campagna region  and made in a particular way with buffalo milk (but remember, this isn’t best for pizza).

When choosing mozzarella for pizza, to start with you should probably consider which style of pizza you’re looking to make before deciding on the type of cheese you buy. At the most basic level, if you want Neapolitan pizza, buy fresh mozzarella (fior di latte). If you prefer American-style pizza, go for aged low-moisture mozzarella.

But aside from that (and the obvious advice that you should buy the best cheese you can afford), it’s worth pointing out that Grande is a particularly popular brand of mozzarella in the US of A, whereas Galbani is among the most popular found in UK stores. Unless you’re lucky enough to buy it fresh from a deli or dairy farm.

The point being that mozzarella from the supermarket or grocery store should work just fine if that’s all you can find, although freshly made fior di latte is ideal if you can get it. It’s best to avoid the cheapest of the cheap if quality pizza is what you’re after, not to mention low-fat mozzarella which just doesn’t melt or taste as good as the whole-milk stuff. 

Clearly, there’s nothing stopping you from having the best of both types of mozzarella on your pizza – you could try starting with a thin layer of grated aged mozzarella across your tomato sauce, before topping with sliced chunks of fresh mozzarella. Smoked mozzarella is also a thing by the way, if that’s your kind of vibe. And don’t get us started on burrata and pizza.

In Summary 

So that’s a load of info about mozzarella and pizza. Obviously there’s tons of other cheeses in the world too, most of which are worth trying on pizza at least once. If you want more cheesy stuff like this, then you might be interested in 10 of the best cheeses for pizza. Otherwise, just go make yourself some pizza.