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Mozzarella: Staple of the Slice
Although proto-pizzas can be detected in culinary history as early as the sixth century, the mozzarella-covered version we know today wasn’t born until 1889. That’s when King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Italy commissioned Neapolitan chef Raffaele Esposito to prepare an assortment of his native city’s pizza—elemental dishes that showcased tomatoes, olive oil, and herbs. Wanting to bake a suitably patriotic pie, Esposito took inspiration from the Italian flag and created a pastiche of red tomatoes, green basil, and white buffalo mozzarella. The queen so adored the mozzarella-centric incarnation that Esposito named it margherita pizza in her honor and began marketing it as the standard. Although mozzarella got its start in the pizza business for political reasons, dough twirlers around the world continue to use it for its three greatest qualities.
Taste: Mozzarella has a rich, salty flavor that harmonizes with the pie’s sauce and other toppings, but it lacks the pungency of sharp or “stinky” cheeses. Ideally, it’ll never overpower even the mildest pepperoni or vegetable.
Low moisture level: The vast majority of pizzas made in the United States rely on a low-moisture version of mozzarella, which means it exudes less water as it heats up. This allows the cheese to become gooey without dampening the crust’s crunch. Low-moisture cheeses also have a longer shelf life, allowing pizzerias to buy in bulk.
Meltability: Cheese makers (or their machines) knead and spin mozzarella until it’s springy and pliable—a texture familiar to anyone who’s enjoyed a stick of string cheese. This signature stringiness allows the cheese to stretch and fuse to the other ingredients as it melts. In contrast, oilier cheeses, such as cheddar or american, become sticky and liquid-like under intense heat, making for a messier slice.