Pizza as we know it consists of 3 defining ingredients – dough, sauce, and cheese. Mozzarella is the king of pizza cheese being the main cheese used in Italian and American pizza, so what’s the best one to use?
Fresh mozzarella is best for Neapolitan pizza and low moisture mozzarella is best for American pizza styles. Pizzas baked in a home oven can use either, but fresh mozzarella is better added halfway through cooking to avoid it releasing too much liquid.
Of course, this is just a guide and it mostly comes down to your preference. In this article, I talk about the best mozzarella suited to different pizza styles, the preparation tips, the best brands, and other extras like what hard cheese to grate on last. Experimenting with some different cheeses and brands to find one you like is also key.
Let’s start with the different types of mozzarella and which type suits which pizza.
Fresh Mozzarella vs Low Moisture Mozzarella
What’s fresh mozzarella?
Mozzarella comes in two main types; fresh and low moisture which both melt fabulously.
Fresh mozzarella is the type that originates from Italy. It comes surrounded by liquid so is wet and soft, and needs to be eaten up quickly. It is traditionally made with buffalo milk (mozzarella di bufala) but these days most is made with cow’s milk (called fior di latte – literally meaning flower of milk). Apart from pizza, you can find it in the Caprese salad of sliced mozzarella, basil, and tomato. As it is wetter, it can make the pizza soggy, so it’s important to dry it and use it on the right pizza style.
What’s “low-moisture mozzarella”?
Low moisture mozzarella is an invention from the United States. It has been dried and aged into a block which makes it harder in texture and slightly stronger and saltier in taste. This means it can be shredded easily and so makes it perfect for covering on things to be melted, like pizza. It’s found on American-style pizzas and other foods that melt and give that gooey cheese pull.
When To Use Fresh Mozzarella Or Low Moisture Mozzarella?
Each style of pizza has its own characteristics. A New York style, which is baked for a longer time, is characteristic of being covered in stringy low moisture mozzarella cheese. A wood-fired Neapolitan usually has less cheese and is soggier as it uses wet mozzarella. In a home oven, it’s easier to make a New York-style but you can also attempt a Neapolitan style if you use my tips below.
Low moisture mozzarella also suits when the pizza won’t be eaten within 10 minutes or so, such as take-away or delivery pizza – it travels well and stays in its stretchy state for much longer. That’s why American pizza has been so successful with low moisture mozzarella.
New York And Thin Crust
For New York and thin-crust American-style pizzas, use shredded low moisture mozzarella. This works well with the longer baking times of a home oven and gives the iconic American pizza taste and texture.
Low moisture mozzarella in a block is best shredded yourself and spread out over the pizza. It melts evenly over the base and gives each slice a perfect amount of cheese. You typically need to use a decent amount of cheese to cover the whole base, so fresh mozzarella isn’t suitable as you can’t shred it.
New York style and replicas made in your home oven are intended to be eaten “by the slice” in your hands. You need a crisp base that can hold its weight. You can only get this with low moisture cheese.
Neapolitan Style In a Home Oven
For making a Neapolitan-style pizza in a home oven, use fresh mozzarella but add it halfway through the baking. As a home oven needs longer than a pizza oven, this avoids the wet mozzarella melting too much and going watery on the base.
When recreating a Neapolitan-style pizza in a home oven, you are usually cooking on a pizza stone or steel. Cooking times are around 5-10 minutes compared to 1-2 minutes in a pizza oven.
This longer cooking doesn’t do too well with fresh, wet mozzarella. As the cheese sits at the melting temperature for longer, it causes the cheese to release water which makes the base wet and soupy.
A wood-fired oven matches the fresh mozzarella much better – the cooking is over within a minute or two and the cheese has just a chance to melt down slightly. To mimic this in a home oven, add the torn mozzarella halfway through the cooking. You usually turn the pizza halfway through cooking – this is a great time to add the cheese and gives it enough time to melt a similar amount to a wood-fired oven.
Neapolitan Style In a Pizza Oven
For Neapolitan-style pizza in a pizza oven, use fresh mozzarella. Cows milk mozzarella (fior di latte) is better than buffalo mozzarella as it releases less liquid. Either should be drained well before using.
The Neapolitan style calls for dots of slightly melted mozzarella surrounded by lots of tomato sauce. You get less of the “cheese pull” effect this way, but more emphasis is on the dough which has a better character from the higher temp oven.
The cheese has less time to release liquid as it cooks so fast. A proper wood-fired oven will cook the pizza in 60-90 seconds. That’s why this cheese is better suited to this style and it’s traditional of course.
What does the AVPN say?
The AVPN regulations (official Naples pizza rule book) state that mozzarella di bufala (buffalo milk) or fior di latte (cows milk) can be used and should be cut into crescents or thin slices.
Pan Pizza, Deep Dish And Other American Styles
For pan pizza and other American styles, low moisture mozzarella is typically usually used but you can mix in some fresh mozzarella too. Be wary of the extra moisture from fresh mozzarella
I love pan pizza as it’s a sort of “anything goes” pizza. You can use sliced low moisture mozzarella for a traditional style, or be more creative and mix some shredded low moisture and torn-up fresh mozzarella.
Chicago deep-dish pizza is traditionally packed with low moisture mozzarella rather than fresh. Cracker-style pizza also benefits from using low moisture to keep it crisp.
I really like using both kinds of cheese as they give different textures and flavors. I think it’s important to not get stuck in one style – you can break the rules!
Try using low moisture shredded mozzarella on the base with the toppings, and dot fresh mozzarella halfway through cooking. The stringy mozzarella gives good cheese pulls and the fresh mozzarella melts to form their own addition to the toppings. I like adding cheddar with low moisture mozzarella too for the extra flavor.
Tips On Using Low Moisture Mozzarella
Always shred/grate your own
Low moisture mozzarella can come pre-shredded, pre-sliced, or as a whole block. When it’s pre-shredded, the manufacturer adds a dusting over the cheese as an “anticaking agent” to stop it from clumping. This might be potato starch or other chemicals. They can stop the cheese from melting nicely and is an unnecessary additive to pizza. Precut cheese can also lose flavor – so always cut it fresh from the block for the best taste.
Whole milk vs part-skim (low fat)
The difference between the two is the milk used; either whole milk or partially skimmed milk. Whole milk mozzarella is widely accepted as the best to use for better performance on the pizza. As it contains a higher fat content, it melts and holds together well. It also reheats better for when you make a big pan pizza and need to reheat those leftover slices.
Use A Big Shred Size
Try and get a shredder/grater which gives nice big strands – use the largest holes on the shredder. If it’s shredded too small then it can melt too much and split into lots of oil. No one wants a pizza dripping in grease!
In the US, some popular brands used by pizzerias are Grande or Galbani.
In the UK, there are fewer options for low moisture mozzarella as lots of supermarkets just sell pre-shredded own brand. But you can find Galbani in larger stores. It’s worth checking your local deli as well.
Tips On Using Fresh Mozzarella
Fresh mozzarella can be made from cow’s milk (fior di latte) or from water buffalo (mozzarella di bufala).
Cows milk vs buffalo
Cows milk mozzarella is what is most common, especially outside of Italy. It is cheaper and the most popular cheese on Naples style pizza. It has a fresh, creamy taste which is perfect on a Margherita.
Buffalo milk has more fat and protein than cow’s milk mozzarella so makes a more premium-tasting cheese. Mozzarella di bufala is even wetter and softer than cows milk mozzarella meaning it can make the pizza even soggier. What I like is to cook the pizza and then add the cheese after. This makes it melt slightly into creamy pools. This cheese is more expensive so I just use it when trying something special.
How To Prepare Fresh Mozzarella
There are a few ways you can prepare mozzarella which can be characteristic to the visual outcome.
- Simply tearing pieces of mozzarella the size of your thumb is the easiest way to go.
- One of my preferred ways is to slice the mozzarella into thin strips a similar size to your pinky finger. I first saw it this way when I had the famous Naples pizza, Pizzeria da Michele.
- Cutting into slices also works, but you get larger pieces of cheese on the pizza and more gaps with no cheese.
Dry Your Fresh Mozzarella
If you like your pizza drier, it’s important to make sure the mozzarella isn’t too wet. Give the cheese a light squeeze in your hand which releases some of the liquid. The liquid is also inside the cheese, so cut up the mozzarella in advance and let the excess moisture come out. You can lay it on kitchen paper towels while you get everything ready. Keeping it in the fridge also makes it release less moisture, rather than letting it heat up in the kitchen.
Again, I like the Galbani brand which is widely available. But you also can’t beat going to an Italian supermarket or deli and picking up their recommended mozzarella.
What About Burrata?
Burrata is similar to a fresh mozzarella ball but when it is shaped, it is filled with soft cheese and cream. So it’s pretty rich! It is more commonly eaten with salads or bread.
To use burrata on pizza, you put the whole ball on the pizza once it is cooked. It can then be sliced open when eaten, which lets the creamy inside flow out. It’s usually used as a topping as such, rather than melted on the base like normal mozzarella.
Is It Worth Making Your Own Mozzarella?
With so much good mozzarella available, 99% of people will just buy it ready-made. But you can make it yourself from mozzarella curds quite simply and it does look really fun. I haven’t done it yet but it’s on my to-do list.
While making it from scratch with milk requires more effort, you can buy a block of mozzarella curds to help you out. This takes out the more tricky part of separating the curds and whey with acid and rennet. With the curds, you soften them in hot water then stretch the mozzarella and shape it into balls. They are then brined to give a salty flavor. This video shows how easy and fun it looks to make your own mozzarella balls:
In addition to mozzarella on the base, it’s really worth adding a “finishing” cheese once it is cooked. This is a hard, grated cheese that is packed full of flavor which tops off the pizza. The most common are Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or Pecorino. This can add more depth to your pizza, which a milky mozzarella is lacking.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is the most popular and rich. This also means it’s the most expensive. My favorite is actually Grana Padano. It has a lovely nutty taste and is slightly less overpowering. It’s also much cheaper.
Pecorino is another hard cheese made from sheep’s milk. This makes it more tangy and sharp than the other two. It’s a popular choice for a lot of pizza makers. You can also mix it with one of the other two kinds of cheese for a mixture of tang and richness. As with a lot of things on pizza – try them out and find your favorite as everyone is different.