Business Insight

How to fix common problems with pizza cheese performance

Key points

  • Customers these days have high expectations in both taste and presentation, so you need a cheese that will perform in all foodservice environments
  • Many independent pizzerias and restaurants are using ovens with high melting points, and if this is the case with your business, your cheese must be able to cope with these conditions
  • A good test is to cook a traditional Margherita pizza — if you’re using cheese which can’t withstand the heat or is of inferior consistency, it will burn straight away.

IT SOUNDS OBVIOUS that if you want to make good pizzas, you should use a good quality cheese. While mozzarella is the preferred choice of pizza cheese among many pizza professionals, not all mozzarellas are of equal quality. In the case of some products, their performance can be affected by such considerations as oven temperature and how long your pizzas cook for.

Fonterra’s Mark Williams knows all about these issues and how to fix them. As State Sales Manager for Victoria and Tasmania, Mark spends much of his time talking to pizzamakers and helping to solve their cheese performance problems.

“Customers these days have high expectations in both taste and presentation, so a good quality mozzarella is a must,” Mark affirms. “That means one that has great stretch and can perform in all foodservice environments. Pizza cheese is all about taste, stretch, blistering and coverage — it’s important to have an even amount of cheese over the pizza.”

Mark makes the point that a great deal of research, development and testing goes into making a quality cheese like Perfect Italiano Mozzarella — which is produced at Fonterra’s new Stanhope cheese factory in north central Victoria.

“When you buy a cheese backed up by a reputable brand like ours, you can be sure that a great deal of expertise has gone into it,” he says. “We’re committed to innovation, whereas with some cheeses, the performance just isn’t there. When you use them on pizzas they’re chewy, they burn, and you might end up with pools of unsightly oil. The quality of the cheese affects all aspects of the pizza.”

Much of the work undertaken by Fonterra’s R&D department in recent years has been focused around ensuring that its Perfect Italiano Mozzarella can perform in the high melting point ovens commonly found in independent pizzerias and restaurants. To this end, Perfect Italiano Ultra Mozzarella was developed to perform in conditions found in even the toughest high temperature cooking environments.

“Frequently we see pizzerias and foodservice outlets that are operating with non-calibrated ovens,” Mark explains. “They may have an old conveyor oven that’s been running for 15 to 20 years and the thermostat may not be as accurate, or the controls may no longer be as responsive as they were. In those situations, you’re often running the oven at a very high melt temperature and in those situations a lot of cheeses will burn.”

Mark says it’s not uncommon for him to see pizzamakers and foodservice operators whose pizzas are being cooked at 265 to 270degrees C for up to nine and a half to ten minutes. “Most pizza cheese cannot cope with that level of heat,” Mark says.

“This is not an issue in those environments where you’re cooking high volumes of pizzas extremely fast — but it is a concern in many neighborhood pizzerias doing lower volumes and working with older uncalibrated equipment.

“Additionally, if the bulk of your business is home delivery and your delivery drivers average 10 mins turnaround time, you may well be cooking your pizzas for up to 10 minutes simply to ensure they’ll be hot out of the oven when the driver returns.”

Such environments can play havoc with pizza cheese performance. “If you are running your oven at higher temperatures for longer, you need a pizza cheese that can literally take the heat,” Mark says.

A good test is to cook a traditional Margherita pizza of tomato base, mozzarella and basil. “If you’re using cheese which can’t withstand the heat or is of inferior consistency, it will burn straight away. This isn’t such an issue with a Meat Lovers Pizza, where the other flavours can disguise that to an extent — but in a heavy cheese pizza like a Margherita, it’s obvious.

“When you have a high melting point oven, you need a cheese with the right consistency, and a lot of work has gone into making sure that Perfect Italiano fits the bill,” Mark says.

“The research has been extensive and it’s been very much influenced by pizza professionals and foodservice operators. We’ve listened to what people want in terms of taste and mouthfeel and presentation and we’ve achieved it. Now with production back in Australia from our Stanhope plant, Perfect Italiano Mozzarella has reached its optimum success.

“This is a product that will enhance performance — you can use it in a woodfired oven, you can use it in a conveyor. We’ve trialed it with at least 100 independent customers to get the right blistering, the right presentation and the right taste. We’ve focused on understanding what our customers want — we’ve listened, we’ve learnt and we’ve delivered.”