And just last week, I tasted a pie that could make any tomato sauce devotee a believer in the power of the white pie. What struck me, I realized, was not the pizza —although the dough itself was quite tasty — but the alliance of cheeses: an inspired trio of cow, sheep, and buffalo.
What's best is that the cheeses aren't hard to find, making it that much easier to taste the power of this combination yourself. Mirepoix, watch out, there's a new holy trinity in town. The recipe comes courtesy of Jim Lahey, of no-knead bread fame, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery, and chef of New York's new pizzeria, Co.
They're all cheeses we know, too. And here they are:
- Gruyere (Cow) Possibly the world's greatest melter. Try to find the cave-aged variety, the wheels of which are set to age in caves (go figure). It typifies the popular cheese descriptor "nutty," and has incredibly savory notes of hay and cooked milk. Aged anywhere from 9 months to over a year and a half, with its flavor strengthening with age. Almost as toothsome as it is intense.
- Young Tuscan Pecorino (Sheep) Don't disregard the two modifiers here. A young pecorino is key for its higher moisture content and greater meltability. The fact that it's young also amplifies its fatty quality, due to the fact that it's made from sheep milk. An aged version would be saltier and too intense. In this case, the mildness of the cheese works in our favor, complimenting the incredible milky tone set by the other two cheeses.
- Buffalo Mozzarella (Buffalo) It's a cheese that will fill the mozzarella quotient but which will add a milkiness that cow's milk mozzarella sometimes lacks. Your standard mozzarella is creamy, yes, but buffalo mozzarella is higher in moisture, sometimes so milky that it leaks whey. The cheese gets its richness and complex flavors from the buffalo, whose milk is fattier than the cow and which lends a sweet, gamey note.
Tuscan is key, too. Pecorino Romano tends to be older and generally packs a punch so salty that it's rarely used in applications that would highlight it on its own. It's more commonly used as a garnish — atop a plate of pasta or some roasted vegetables — almost how one would finish a plate with salt. Tuscan pecorinos tend to be more mild and sheepy. The variety you're looking for here will be white with a pliable rind and semi-soft, almost rubbery inner paste.
Be sure that what you purchase is the freshest possible and if you're not sure, ask your retailer if there's anything newer that may not be on the sales floor yet. This is a highly perishable cheese and its freshness is key in this application.
It may be that they're all great melters, or that they have varying levels of fat content that make for great balance, or that they each offer an entirely different flavor, but the combination on a pizza is just plain tasty.
Try it as the recipe states, with spinach and garlic, which is delicious, but with your leftover dough, try a straight-up white pizza: top with the cheeses and a simple sprinkle of fresh thyme or parsley. And let us know what you think.
Related: Recipe: Homemade Thin-Crust Pizza