My five-year stint as a pizzamaker taught me many things, like what separates a good pizza from a superlative one. There are a few things that pizza pros have that a home pizzamaker doesn’t, like industrial equipment and years of knowhow (probably some gnarly oven burns, too). But what a home pizza enthusiast can do is source some pretty great ingredients for their pies, and one secret for great pizza is in a high-quality mozzarella. Many pizzerias source their cheese from one of two brands—and one of them is likely available at your grocery store.
The two brands that I’ve seen many quality pizza joints use are Grande and Galbani. Pizzamakers look for a few factors in a great pizza cheese: salt content, fat content, the way it melts, and overall flavor. Though mozzarella can be a pretty neutral cheese, if you pay close attention, the various brands and products all taste slightly different.
At Paulie Gee’s Logan Square, where I used to work (and occasionally still do), we actually used both Grande and Galbani, depending on the application. I asked my former boss, Paulie Gee’s owner Derrick Tung, why he decided on these particular brands and how the restaurant uses them.
“The dominant brands in most pizzerias are Galbani and Grande,” Tung confirmed. “Depending on style of pizza and what we’re going for, we’ve used both for different things.”
But it also comes down to personal preferences as well. “We’ve personally found that we prefer the flavor of Galbani in our triple blind taste tests, but that’s because we like a slightly tangier mozzarella for our pizzas,” Tung said.
Grande’s fresh cheeses, like its fior di latte (Italian for “flower of milk”), are stellar for Neapolitan-style pizza applications. As winter approaches, however, I imagine many of you won’t be braving the cold just to fire off a pie in the backyard, so let’s focus on a version you can use more easily at home and even grab at some grocery stores.
Galbani low moisture whole milk mozzarella will take your pizzas to the next level. As I mentioned, Grande cheeses are terrific, but they are also hard to find at a retail store. If you’re being really thorough, you’ll likely be able to score some from a restaurant supply store, but only in large quantities, like a five-pound block, or in giant tubs for the fresh variety.
I have, however, found Galbani products at my local grocery store. The one you’ll want to reach for is the whole milk, low moisture mozzarella that comes in a one-pound ball. I’ve found it by the prepackaged sliced cheeses from leading brands, not in those fancier refrigerated islands of high end cheese; it should be sitting near the bricks of cheddar, jack, and similar staple cheeses.
If you’re going to make pizza from scratch (or mostly from scratch), you might as well make one that’s more indulgent than what you can buy premade, right? The part-skim varieties of mozzarella don’t have that extra silkiness to them once they’re melted, and they become somewhat chewy when they cool down. The full fat whole milk mozzarella is key. It also has to be low moisture, as fresh mozzarella does weep water during the baking process and can render your conventional oven-baked pizza soggy. (You use fresh mozzarella for a Neapolitan-style more often than not, due to the high cooking temperatures.)
Notice I said you want to purchase a ball of cheese, as opposed to shredded. Bags of pre-shredded cheese have cellulose added to them, which is a plant-based material that keeps the shreds from clumping together. It’s fine for a lot of general uses like topping casseroles, but on pizza, it will impart a slight graininess to your final product. So either shred or slice the cheese yourself, thinly and evenly, and see how much better your homemade pizza turns out. All that’s left to work on is your dough-tossing game.