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St. Louis Pizza: It’s All About the Cheese

BY: Editors | Jul 14, 2015
St. Louis Pizza: It’s All About the Cheese

St. Louis pizza reflects the character of its city. It doesn’t need to be a contender in the pizza wars the way Chicago and New York do, with proponents advocating for the city’s style of pizza in far-flung towns. St. Louis requires no such outside validation. The only people who have to say they craft incredible pizza—St. Louis-ians themselves. 

What makes a St. Louis–style pizza? Is it the cracker-thin crust, more pliable than Chicago’s thin crust, yet cut similarly, in squares? Is it the distinctly sweet sauce, likely influenced by the city's Sicilian immigrants and candy merchants? Yes, that’s part of it, but for the majority of St. Louis restaurants, it’s all about the cheese.

St. Louis–Style Pizza: Show Me the Cheese

Imagine biting into a slice of pizza: the mozzarella stretches out in long, ductile strands until finally the teeth win out with a snap. 

On a St. Louis pizza, forget all that. This cheese—provel, a processed mixture of provolone, swiss, and white cheddar—doesn’t stretch or bounce. Served atop the aforementioned cracker-thin, yeast-less crust, provel makes a clean break when cut or bitten into. Even in the refrigerated cases at the supermarket, the stuff is soft and malleable. 

Fans describe the taste as sharp, buttery, and slightly smoky (indeed, liquid smoke is sometimes an ingredient). Although virtually unknown outside St. Louis, provel perseveres—a recent NPR report cited some 2 million pounds of it is consumed each year, on salads and sandwiches as well as pizza. 

When asked where to get the best St. Louis–style pizza, most St. Louis residents point to the popular Imo’s Pizza. First opened in 1964, Imo’s was the first in the city to deliver pizzas to customers’ doorsteps. Today, Imo’s even crafts its own blend of provel, available in area grocery stores.