Mozzarella is the cheese that most people think of when they think pizza. Not only is it readily available and affordable, it melts beautifully and has a mild flavor that goes with most pizza toppings. So it's no wonder that mozzarella is the most popular choice.
There's more than one kind of mozzarella available, so don't just grab that bag of shredded cheese in the refrigerator at your grocery store. There are alternatives that with a little extra work will yield much better results.
Fresh mozzarella, also called high-moisture mozzarella because it's packed in some kind of liquid, has a shorter shelf life, but a smoother texture. Made from either cow or water buffalo milk, it's more expensive than shredded cheese, but you'll use less. The texture is very creamy and the flavor is very delicate. Don't cover the entire pizza, just distribute silver dollar-sized slices evenly over the top.
Be sure to squeeze all the excess liquid from the cheese or your crust will be soggy. And remember that because of the milder flavor, high-moisture mozzarella is easily overwhelmed.
The other kind of mozzarella is low-moisture mozzarella, which can be made with either whole or part skim milk. The skim milk mozzarella has less fat, so it's good for dieters. But it may not melt as well as whole-milk mozzarella. For a really flavorful pizza, try smoked mozzarella. It's especially good with caramelized onions and chicken.
Since mozzarella has such a mild flavor, you may want to use a hard, grating cheese to add a little more zing. Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is made from cow's milk and aged for more than a year, is a great flavor booster.
Named for the city of Rome, Romano cheese can be made from goat's or sheep's milk. Grana Padano from outside Milan, is another tangy, salty cheese that adds a lot of flavor. You don't have to use much of these pizza toppings to intensify the taste.
But with so many wonderful cheeses to choose from, why not forget about mozzarella and try something different? A Greek pizza with feta cheese, kalamata olives, onions, peppers, and tomatoes is a nice departure. Top with a tzatziki yogurt sauce after it comes out of the oven. Or make a seafood pizza with feta, shrimp, tomatoes and lots of fresh herbs, like oregano.
Goat cheese also makes a great pizza. It's particularly good combined with greens like spinach or arugula. Spray the greens with olive oil spray before putting it in the oven.
The nutty flavor of Fontina goes really well with wild mushrooms and bacon. Gruyere is wonderful with bacon or pancetta and fruit such as pears. Gorgonzola also pairs nicely with fruit and smoked meat.
Mexican-influenced pizzas are a fun change of pace. Smoked Gouda with chicken, black olives, green onions, and enchilada sauce is a quick, easy way to enjoy enchilada flavors without all the effort. And Cheddar cheese and Cheddar cheese blends work well with ground beef or chorizo.
When you're craving lasagna, but don't want to go to all the trouble, use tomato or Bolognese sauce, mozzarella, and creamy ricotta cheese as your pizza toppings.
These days, most grocery stores offers cheeses from all over the world. Check out the cheese department with an open mind, and you'll find all sorts of options.