French chefs, based in Lyon, have recently (September 2021) broken the Guinness World Record for the number of different cheeses included in a pizza topping, serving up an amazing 834, to smash the previous record of 254. Whilst this may not have been a Valoriani wood-fired oven pizza, it fired up the Orchard Ovens team, which wondered what sorts of cheese wood-fired pizza chefs around the UK are using in their lip-smacking creations.
Whilst you may think a wood-fired pizza cheese has to be the melt-and-stretch king that is mozzarella, (buffalo or Fior di Latte) and nothing else other than a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano on the top, that is far from the case. A quick Google toppings trawl led us to 23 other cheeses, so let’s take a look at what others are being brought out of the UK’s commercial wood-fired pizza ovens.
Feta – this is another sheep’s cheese, although it can also be made from a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk. A spinach and feta wood-fired pizza, sometimes finished off with kalamata olives for a ‘Greek pizza’, is often a restaurant favourite.
Gorgonzola (also Roquefort and Stilton) – Gorgonzola is an Italian blue-veined cheese made from unskimmed cow’s milk and named after a town in the Metropolitan district of Milan. It can be delicious on a wood-fired pizza, when served with pears and prosciutto as a savoury pizza, or with walnuts, pears and honey for a sweeter one. It is often also used by wood-fired pizza chefs as one of the four cheese choices on a Quattro Formaggi wood-fired pizza. The southern French sheep’s milk cheese, Roquefort, is an alternative, as is Stilton
Goat’s Cheese – there is often nothing tastier for diners than a caramelised onion and goat’s cheese wood-fired pizza, although goat’s cheese can also be combined with vegetables, such as courgettes, with prosciutto or with pesto.
Taleggio – this thin-crusted cheese is rarer to find in wood-fired oven owning pubs and restaurants but can be sought out, combined with something such as broccoli or chanterelle mushrooms. It is a semi-soft, smear-ripened cheese, made from cow’s milk and originating from the area around Lake Como, Brescia and Bergamo, in northern Italy. A French alternative to this, is Reblochon.
Provolone – this stretched-curd, semi-hard cheese originates from close to the volcano of Vesuvius, where it can be produced in cone, pear and even 30-cm sausage shapes. More modern Provolone production takes place in Lombardy and Veneto in the north. It can be sharp or sweet and has the variant Provola, also used by some wood-fired oven chefs.
Manchego – although this cheese originates from La Mancha in Spain, it is frequently used within the world of wood-fired cookery, combined with other toppings such as red peppers and chorizo, or something sweet, such as figs. Its use reminds us that wood-fired ovens do not just provide food theatre in Italian restaurants but also in those serving Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine. Our Valoriani wood-fired ovens can be found in all.
Gouda – this may seem an unusual cheese to find on a pizza, but some wood-fired chefs swear by it, particularly in varieties such as smoked. A similar taste sensation is also delivered on some wood-fired pizzas through the use of Jahlsberg.
Ricotta – a much more usual cheese to find on your wood-fired pizza, ricotta can be a lovely cheese to combine with a topping of asparagus, spinach or courgette, or something sweet such as honey and lemon. Ricotta is a whey cheese, made from what’s left after other cheeses have been produced, and it can be derived from sheep, cow, water buffalo or goat’s milk.
Mascarpone – mascarpone cheese is delicious with savoury wood-fired pizzas but those with a sweet tooth really relish combining it with a topping such as pear, figs and honey and even chocolate spread. This Italian cream cheese has been known in Lombardy since the 16th and 17th centuries.
Specialist cheeses – our research also found wood-fired chefs around the UK using specialist cheese on their wood-fired pizzas such as Wrekin Blue (artisan blue cheese from Shropshire made by Moyden’s Handmade), Yorkshire Blue, Strathdon Blue (from the Highland Fine Cheese Company) and Young Buck Blue (from Northern Ireland) as well as the award-winning Blacksticks Blue from Preston, where Orchard Ovens and Valoriani UK is based. Add to this Tain Brie, also from the Highland Fine Cheese Company, and it just shows how wood-fired pizza can literally be a base upon which to showcase artisan local foods, particularly when cooked in a Valoriani artisan wood-fired oven from Orchard Ovens. It just proves you don’t have to stick to the Italian classics!