Mozzarella is the standard cheese found on nearly every pizza, fresh and frozen. Provolone pops its head up every once in a while and gets to be the fromage du jour (cheese of the day) on occasion, but other than these two cheeses, nobody seems to give any of the others their day in the oven.
This is a shame, especially here in Wisconsin. Mozzarella is a wonderful cheese, but it needn't be the only one.
Just as you may change around what vegetables or meats you put on your pizza, I think the cheese should be changed around too. I probably use Swiss cheese as often on my pizzas as I do mozzarella but even this gets a little monotonous.
The cure for monotony? The West Allis Cheese Shop, located in the Milwaukee Public Market just inside the Third Ward neighborhood. With over 100 cheeses available you'll surely find a few alternatives to get excited about. I made a pizza with three different cheeses all lined up next to each other on the same crust. A true side-by-side taste test!
The three cheeses I selected were just a bit off the beaten path, nothing too exotic and not way off into the woods. The cheeses: Butterkase, Smoked Swiss and Tomato-Basil. Butterkase is a German cheese with a nice buttery flavor that melts really well. I've used it before on cheeseburgers and to make beer cheese soup, but never on pizza. I was excited to see if the Smoked Swiss would perform any differently than regular Swiss, both in melting ability and taste. I chose the Tomato-Basil to see if I could possibly replicate a Pizza Margherita, lazy style. I used ground chicken as my protein of choice for this three-cheese pizza because of its general neutrality, taste-wise.
I decided to arrange my slices of cheese in a column, one next to the other, rather than in triangular-type portions. The slices were rectangles so it seemed easier to make the pizza this way and avoid cross-contamination of cheeses. Oftentimes I do use thin slices of cheese instead of grated. I get a more even coverage this way and tend to use less cheese at the same time.
Besides the different arrangement of cheese, I also had to shorten the baking time for this taste-test pizza. With no vegetables and just a little bit of chicken covering the cheese, I had to keep on eye on the pie to make sure the cheeses wouldn't completely bubble over and become one homogeneous mess.
Then it was time to eat, in alphabetical order.
Butterkase â€“ As advertised, this was a nice, deep, buttery cheese with a light yellow color. But, it wasn't so rich that you felt like you were eating a stick of butter. It was just mellow enough so that it wouldn't over-exert itself and become too dominant of a flavor. Like a chilled-out alpha dog, Butterkase knows it rules but doesn't need to bark about it.
Smoked Swiss â€“ I love Swiss cheese; it is my No. 1 cheese for sandwiches, burgers, tacos and burritos. It's also delicious on pizzas, but I've never tried using Smoked Swiss cheese before. The melting cheese in the oven mimicked the smell of a charcoal grill; it was very pungent. My nose set me up for a letdown. The smokiness of the cheese was a bit too heavy for the delicate pie.
Tomato-Basil â€“ This cheese was just the opposite of the Smoked Swiss. It melted great, just like the other two, but didn't have enough of the tomato and basil to stand up to the rest of the pizza. The tomato sauce seemed to drown out the tomato in the cheese, and the basil wasn't sharp enough to stick out either. It still was great on the pizza, but I couldn't discern the individual flavors in the cheese â€“ that is to say, I wouldn't have known this was any different than provolone cheese, for example.
All of the cheeses were very unique when sampled alone, but the Butterkase was the one that left me with an impression, and indeed a great desire, to use it again â€“ and soon! It's a bit pricier ($11.99/lb.) but because it is very rich in flavor you don't need to cover every square centimeter of your pizza with it. Maybe keep this ace in your back pocket and save it for a time to go "all in." You'll hit blackjack every time with this cheese!
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