A lot of times, what gives a certain restaurant's pizza its particular taste is the type of cheese they use. Really, it should be the types of "cheeses" since many places have their own unique blend. Some places even have a secret recipe that they won't give out, even under pressure of torture. Here are some of the most commonly used and why they are the best.
Without a doubt, mozzarella is the king of pizza cheeses. It originated in Naples and was originally made from the milk of water buffalos. These days, it is made from cow's milk and it is easier to work with. This cheese is packed with moisture and has a short shelf life. You have to use it pretty soon after buying it. There are lots of different mozzarellas available at the store and they all have different fat and moisture content.
The second most popular cheese is provolone, which comes from the Neapolitan word 'prova,' meaning 'ball.' Provolone is firm and smooth with a golden color on the outside and a creamy interior. The key to this cheese's flavor is its smokiness. It is cured for several months and this gives it a pungent flavor. Like mozzarella, there are several different varieties that are commonly used.
Cheddar is a good cheese for mixing. It is rarely used by itself because it does not stretch well. Instead, it is usually mixed with other types of cheese. It varies from mild to sharp flavor and the whole range is good for making pizzas. The sharper types of cheddar aren't usually used because they don't blend as well.
Most places use a mix of mozzarella and cheeses that are harder. They do this to add variety to the flavor and also cut down on the cost of the mozzarella. Every place has its own recipe (and some won't divulge!), but mixing cheeses include Parmesan, provolone, Romano, and dry jack.
It may surprise you to know that some folks prefer their pie with no cheese on top. This might seem like a wild new idea, but it has been the norm in Europe for years. Deep-dish pizza loaded with cheese is actually an American concoction. In Europe (including Italy), they often skip on the cheese so that the flavor of the other toppings can come through better.
If you're making your own pizza at home, you should experiment with cheeses. Even if you're buying a frozen one from the grocery store, hit the deli and pick up some different type of cheese. The flavor difference just might turn that cheap store-bought pie into something as tasty as what you get at your favorite Italian restaurant.