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Pizza cheese encompasses several varieties and types of cheeses and dairy products that are designed and manufactured for use specifically on pizza, including processed and modified cheese such as mozzarella-like processed cheeses and Mozzarella variants. Pizza cheese can also refer to any type of cheese suitable for use on pizza. Estimates have placed 30% of all pizza cheese used in the United States is mozzarella cheese. The most popular cheeses used in the preparation of pizza are mozzarella, provolone, cheddar and Parmesan. Emmental, Romano and ricotta are often used as toppings, and processed pizza cheeses manufactured specifically for pizza are used often in mass production environments.
Processed pizza cheese is manufactured to produce preferable qualities in browning, melting, stretchiness and fat and moisture content. Many studies and experiments have analyzed the impact of vegetable oil, manufacturing and culture processes, denatured whey proteins and other changes to create ideal and economical pizza cheeses. In 1997 it was estimated that annual production of pizza cheese was 2 billion pounds in the United States and 200 million pounds in Europe, and in 2000 demand for pizza cheese in Europe was increasing by 8% per year.
The International Dictionary of Food and Cooking defines pizza cheese as "a soft spun-curd cheese similar to Mozzarella made from cow's milk..." that is "...used particularly for pizzas and contains somewhat less water than real Mozzarella..." Most pizza cheeses are at least 95 percent Mozzarella, with different moisture and fat densities. Cheese for frozen pizzas may be comminuted, in which the cheese is processed into minute granules or fragments. Many varieties such as low-moisture Mozzarella are formulated specifically for pizza. Others are processed into blocks, from which the product can be grated, made into granules or sliced for use on pizza and in the preparation of other foods. Pizza cheese frequently consists of a blend of two or more cheeses. Low-moisture Mozzarella and Provolone is the most common blend.
|Mozzarella||Globally, the most popular pizza cheese. However, it has been estimated that in the United States only 30% of all pizza cheese used is actual Mozzarella cheese.|
|Provolone||The second most popular and sometimes mixed with Mozzarella.|
|Cheddar||Usually mixed with Mozzarella to preserve chewiness.|
|Parmesan||Usually finely grated and added to the top of the pizza, because it doesn't melt well.|
|Others||Emmental, Romano and Ricotta for calzones or as a topping.|
|Processed||A diverse variety of processed and analogue pizza cheeses are produced. Provel is one example.|
Pasteurized and processed pizza cheese dairy products that are designed to melt well and remain chewy are used on many mass-produced pizzas in North America, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. These types of cheeses are referred to as analogue pizza cheese and analog pizza cheese. It has been stated that analogue pizza cheese appears to be the leading type of cheese analogue produced globally. Each year in the United States, 700 million frozen pizzas are sold, three-quarters of which contain cheese substitutes.
Analogue pizza cheeses may be formulated for processing with less sophisticated cheese-making equipment than required by Mozzarella cheese, such as the processes of mixing and molding. They tend to have a soft texture and once melted, may have a slightly "stringy" quality when pulled or bitten into. They may lack in a fusion, or melting together of the shredded product when cooked. New stabilizer systems have been developed that have helped to enable the creation of analogue pizza cheeses. An example of a processed pizza cheese is Provel pasteurized processed pizza cheese, which uses Cheddar, Swiss, and Provolone cheeses as flavorants. Some analogue pizza cheese types are made with casein, a by-product of milk, and vegetable oil, rather than milk fat. Rennet casein-based Mozzarella-like imitation processed cheeses exist that are used as a Mozzarella substitute on frozen pizzas.
In some instances, the production of analogue pizza cheese can be very similar to the production of cream cheese, although the process of homogenization may be avoided, and additional differences in production are existent. In the production of some varieties, the product is heated to remain at a specific temperature and for a specific amount of time, which causes the proteins in the mix to gelatinize. During this process, salts in the mix serve to emulsify it and thus improve the meltability of the final product. The heated product is then placed in packaging such as bags-in-boxes while still hot, as it is more easily handled in this state compared to when existing as a solid. Upon being packaged, these types of pizza cheeses are then quick-cooled to avoid browning of the product vis-a-vis the Maillard reaction.
Manufacturers and academics have conducted studies and experiments in an effort to improve the stretchiness, melting characteristics, browning, fat content and water retention of pizza cheese. Several patents exist for specialized varieties of pizza cheese and for its processing. A study by Rudan and Barbano found that the addition of a thin layer of vegetable oil atop low- and reduced-fat pizza cheese increased meltability and reduced browning and dehydration when the product was cooked, but the texture remained overly chewy and tough. A study by Perry (et al.) found various methods to heighten the melt of low-fat pizza cheese by increasing its moisture, including the use of pre-acidification, fat-replacers, and exopolysaccharide starter cultures as well as higher pasteurization temperatures.
Manufacturers aim for a moisture content of 50-to-52 percent and a fat-in-dry-matter content of 35-to-40 percent. A study published in the International Journal of Food & Science Technology found that a 12.5:87.5 blend of vetch-bovine milk improved stretchiness and melting characteristics. An experiment published in the International Journal of Dairy Technology suggested that the level of galactose can be reduced using different culture techniques. An article in the International Journal of Food Engineering found that trisodium citrate slightly improved the preferred qualities of pizza cheese. Research published in Dairy Industries International suggested that denatured whey proteins increased moisture retention, but that the improvements were very slight and not economical. Some consumers prefer pizza cheese with less browning, which can be achieved using low-moisture part-skim Mozzarella with a low galactose content.[nb 1] Some pizza cheeses derived from skim mozzarella variants were designed not to require aging or the use of starter. Others can be made through the direct acidification of milk.
In the United States, several hundred million pounds of pizza cheese is consumed annually. In 1997, it was estimated that annual production of pizza cheese was 1 million tons (2 billion pounds) in the United States and 100,000 tons (200 million pounds) in Europe. It has been estimated that 30% of all pizza cheese used in the United States is Mozzarella cheese. As of 2000, demand for pizza cheese was growing in Europe by 8 percent per year. The world's largest manufacturer of pizza cheese, Leprino Foods Company, processes 600,000 tonnes (1.2 billion pounds) a year. Leprino Foods holds patents for some specialized Mozzarella production processes that enable the quick manufacture of pizza cheese. One such product is a frozen shredded cheese used for pizza that is created in a few hours from milk.
Provel cheese is commonly used in St. Louis-style pizza. Whole milk mozzarella is popular in pizzas in the East and Southwest regions of the US, while one survey showed that Provolone was more popular on the east and west coast. Cheddar is thought to be used more in the Eastern and Southern regions.