Pizza makers and pizza lovers recognize that top quality ingredients make a pizza great. Along with freshly made dough and the finest meats and vegetables, cheese makes an important contribution to the flavor and appearance of your pizza. California cheesemakers now make more than 250 varieties of Real California Cheese, many perfect for topping your pizza creations.

We've created a helpful and informative guide to introduce you to the unlimited possibilities of Real California Cheese and how this quality ingredient can help you make your best pizza ever! The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) developed this guide to introduce you to the unlimited possibilities of Real California Cheese. As pizza makers, you told us what the important product quality factors were for your cheese selection. This guide addresses those factors by describing how moisture levels of various California cheeses affect the flavor, texture, and appearance of your pizzas. Information about cheese handling, storage, meltability and flavor also is provided to help you determine which Real California Cheeses are best for your pizza creations.

Fresh From the Start
The nation's leading dairy state, California, produces more milk than any other state and is the second largest cheese-producing region, with approximately 50% of its milk production going into cheesemaking. The federal government sets specific standards for nonfat milk solids in fluid milk. Under these standards, the nonfat milk solids level is at least 8.25% for all varieties of fluid milk. For more than 30 years, California's minimum standards have exceeded federal levels. Real California Cheese is made from fresh California milk and produced locally by California cheesemakers.

What's the Deal With the Seal?
Real California Cheese is distinguished by the black and gold Real California Cheese seal. This seal certifies that the cheese carrying it is natural and made in California exclusively from California milk.

Consumers Look for the Seal
It should come as no surprise, cheese is more popular than ever. Over the last 21 years, the CMAB has spent millions of advertising and promotion dollars to create distinctive affection among consumers for cheeses that carry the Real California Cheese (RCC) seal. Thanks to the CMAB's "Happy Cows" campaign, and now our “Family Farms” advertising, consumers are looking for the RCC seal at the store and on menus everywhere.  Sixty-nine percent of women surveyed recall the campaign and the RCC seal. More than 80% of pizza makers also recognize the RCC seal and feel its natural message is meaningful. By choosing Real California Cheese, you not only benefit from the quality cheeses produced in California, you also put the power of the "Happy Cows" and our state’s 1750 family farms behind every pizza you make.

We Asked, You Said...
What makes pizza makers decide which cheese to choose? What are the important product quality factors for cheese selection?

A recent survey of California pizza makers identified the following criteria for cheese selection:

  • Appearance after cooking  (looks appetizing when cooked)
  • Texture (does not get soggy when cooked)
  • Melts evenly when cooked
  • High-quality cheese is used
  • Does not burn when cooked
  • 100% natural

What Is Cheese?
Cheese, a nutritious and concentrated dairy food made from milk, is defined as the fresh or ripened product obtained by draining whey (the moisture or serum of original milk) after coagulation of casein, the major milk protein. The basic principles of cheesemaking are the same for all natural cheeses. The object is to extract the water from milk, leaving the milk solids (fat, protein, vitamins, etc.) behind. Cheese consists primarily of the milk protein, casein, and most of the fat and fat-soluble proteins, minerals such as calcium and water, of the original milk.

Cheese Classification by Moisture Level
Cheese varieties are classified based primarily on their moisture content, resulting in their degree of hardness. Federal standards of identity have been established for hard grating and hard, semi-soft and soft classes of cheese.

Fat on dry basis (FDB) is defined as the fat as percent of the milk solid (i.e., 100 lbs. of Mozzarella of which 60 lbs. is water and 22 lbs. is fat. The water weight needs to be subtracted from the total weight which leaves us with 40 lbs. Then as FDB is defined, divide fat (22) into solids (40) and the result is 55%).

Measured by the Mouth
The texture, and consequently the mouth feel, of cheese is directly correlated to the type of cheese as characterized by consistency, such as soft, semi-soft, hard, etc. Higher moisture cheese has a smoother mouth feel than a very hard, grating cheese, which is low in moisture. Higher milk fat cheese also tends to be softer, smoother and/or creamier in the mouth due to the fact that the milk fat in cheese melts just below body temperature (82.4°–98.6°F/28°–36°C).

Milkfat completely melts in the mouth, which contributes to a smooth mouth feel. Additionally, milkfat affects mouth feel by contributing to perceived moistness and smoothness of texture.

Moisture Content in Cheese
Generally speaking, the lower the moisture content, the firmer the cheese. The firmer the cheese, the slower the ripening, the more selective the flora (flavor and aroma) and the longer the shelf life. For example, hard grating cheeses are lowest in moisture and are ripened for long periods of time to obtain the required loss of moisture and desired flavor development. The relatively low moisture content in varieties of hard-grating and hard cheeses permits storage for a year or more under favorable conditions. The semi-soft and soft varieties, which have a higher moisture content, are more perishable.

Minimum milkfat in cheese (%) can be defined as the true minimum fat content that cheese must contain (i.e., 100 lbs. of Mozzarella must contain not less than 18 lbs. of fat).

Nutrients in Cheese
All cheeses are good sources of protein providing all essential amino acids needed for growth and tissue repair. Regular fat cheeses are high in fat but provide nutrients such as vitamin A and fatty acids. The only carbohydrate found in milk, also present in cheese, is lactose. Most of the lactose in milk is lost during cheesemaking. The majority of hard and semi-soft cheeses contain less than one gram of lactose per ounce of cheese. This is typically in such small amounts that it does not affect most people with lactose sensitivity. However, processed cheese products (products that state processed cheese or processed cheese food on the label) usually do contain lactose because of the way they are manufactured.

Cheese Handling and Storage
Except for fresh unripened cheeses, most cheeses are ripened to some degree to develop flavor. Cheeses ripened for up to 3 months are classified as mild; 3–6 months as medium; and more than 6 months as aged. Federal regulations require that cheeses made from raw milk must be ripened for a minimum of 60 days at temperatures not less than 35°F before consumption.

Storage temperature is important in flavor development. Cheeses held at high temperatures ripen faster than those held at low temperatures. Typical ripening temperatures of about 50°–54°F are used for short-term storage and 39°–45°F are used for long-term storage at the factory. Cheeses purchased for consumption however, must be stored at temperatures between 35°–38°F in airtight containers to maintain freshness and flavor. Once cheese is taken from its original package it must be rewrapped tightly in plastic bags or plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Unripened fresh cheeses, e.g., fresh water-packed Mozzarella, must be used as soon as possible.

Mold that develops on natural aged cheese is harmless. Remove it by simply cutting 1/4-1/2 inch beneath the mold and use the cheese as soon as possible. If a piece of cheese has become quite moldy (more than one or two small spots), it's best to discard it.

Freezing Cheese
The freezing point of cheese depends on the age, moisture and salt content. Aged cheeses have a lower freezing point. The flavor of aged cheeses is not affected by freezing. However, freezing can have a negative effect on body and texture. Cheeses such as Cheddar, Gouda, Provolone, Mozzarella, and Dry Jack may be frozen for 6 weeks or more. For best results, cheese to be frozen must be less than half a pound or not more than one-inch thick. Therefore, large blocks or wheels must be cut into smaller pieces. The cheese must be wrapped in an airtight package to prevent moisture loss. It is best to use foil or plastic wrap designed for freezing. Cheese must be frozen as quickly as possible to less than -18°C (0°F) or lower as slow freezing causes cheese to become crumbly.

Frozen cheese is best thawed slowly in a refrigerator. When cheese is removed from frozen storage, it may appear mottled or show uneven color distribution. But, after complete thawing, the normal color of the cheese will return. Cheese that has been frozen should be used as soon as possible after thawing. Cheese that has been frozen and thawed should never be refrozen.

Unlike freezing cheese yourself, manufacturers employ special procedures and technologies in the freezing process to help retain the freshness and integrity of the cheese. An example is individually quick frozen (IQF) cheeses where each individual piece is quick-frozen to lock in freshness and quality.

Cheeses purchased frozen can come in different packaging than fresh cheeses and have a longer frozen storage life than fresh varieties. When using manufacturer frozen cheese, be sure to follow their recommendations for thawing and handling.

What Meltability Really Means
The most traditional cheese used on pizza is Mozzarella and other pasta filata cheeses (defined as having great elasticity and stretches when cooked or heated). Cheese may be purchased in blocks or in cut, diced, or shredded form. When cheese is purchased in blocks or wheels, it must be shredded or grated before being used as a pizza topping. Thoroughly chilled cheese grates and shreds better than cheese kept at room temperature. Grated or shredded cheese melts more readily than a block. The stretching and melting properties of cheeses are important characteristics, influencing its use on pizza. The melt distance (in millimeters) shows the relative flow of cheese when heated. In other words, the melt distance shows how much the cheeses will melt and/or stretch relative to each other when heated. Some cheeses melt better than others. For example, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Gouda, and Provolone have melting properties similar to Mozzarella, but offer varied flavors to the traditional pizza. Brie, Feta, and Panela have little or no melting properties, yet complement the standard toppings.

For cooking, remember that most cheeses respond best to low and medium temperatures for a minimum amount of time, just long enough to melt the cheese and blend it with the other ingredients. A relatively high temperature or a prolonged period of cooking causes fat separation and protein denaturation, resulting in a stringy, rubbery product.

Pick a Flavor, Any Flavor
Different ingredients and processes employed during the making and aging of cheese result in a wide variety of available cheeses, each with its own distinct texture and flavor profile. The milk fat in cheese is an excellent background flavor and also carries other flavors. Its low melting point ensures complete flavor release.

Cheese, especially softer varieties, combines well with other ingredients, particularly fat-soluble ingredients (other fats and oils, flavorings, oil-based spices such as oregano), spices, herbs and sweet flavors. In such combinations, cheese serves as a carrier and evenly distributes the flavorings throughout the product.

Pizza Maker's Guide to Real California Cheese
California has long been known as a hotbed of culinary innovation and this is especially true in its pizza kitchens. Over the past few years, California pizza makers have earned a reputation for transforming the look and taste of the traditional pizza pie. Today's creative pizza makers use toppings from seafood to roasted nuts, even sliced fruit! The growth of California's specialty cheeses has helped pave the way for these innovative pizza creations.

With more than 250 varieties and styles of cheese produced in California, it's no wonder that many are perfect for topping pizzas. With so many choices of Real California Cheese (RCC), the options and combinations are endless. The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) has created this information guide to help you better understand Real California Cheese and how this quality ingredient can help you make your best pizza ever.

A Selection of Real California Cheeses:

  • Mozzarella: Most commonly used on pizzas because of superior melting and stretching ability. A white cheese with delicate, mild flavor can be found as semi-hard or fresh varieties.
  • Cheddar: Cheddar describes a family of very popular and versatile cheeses available in a range of flavors from mild to very sharp.
  • Feta: A salty, pungent white cheese with a dry, crumbly firm to hard texture.
  • Panela: Mild, firm, white Hispanic-style cheese with sweet milky flavor.
  • Provolone: Hard or semi-hard light yellow cheese with flavor ranging from mild to sharp to smoky.
  • Brie–Mild: Rich soft-ripened cheese with an edible white rind. Brie has a soft, creamy white interior that becomes more flavorful as the cheese ages.
  • Edam: Semi-hard mild yellow cheese with firm texture that is similar to Gouda.
  • Gouda: Semi-hard creamy yellow cheese with firm texture and mild, nutty flavor.
  • Monterey Jack: Semi-hard creamy white cheese with semi-firm to firm texture and smooth, mild flavor. Comes in flavored varieties such as hot pepper, jalapeño, garlic, onion and pesto; a California original.
  • Dry Jack: Very hard, aged dry version of Monterey Jack with delicious nutty flavor. An excellent replacement for Parmesan.
  • Asiago: Piquant, sharp light yellow, Italian-style cheese that can be hard to very hard in texture, depending on age, similar to Parmesan.
  • Fontina: A firm, light yellow, mild nutty-flavored cheese, similar to Gouda or Edam.
  • Swiss: A mild, pale yellow cheese with a tangy sweet, nutty flavor. Best recognized by the holes or eyes that develop as the cheese ripens.
  • Teleme: A mild creamy white cheese with a slightly tangy aftertaste.

Pizza Maker Technical Assistance
The following companies offer assistance to help you use the Real California Cheese to maximize pizza profits.

Click here to download the full list of companies.

Dairy Farmers of America
Tel: 209-667-9627, ext. 29; Fax: 209-667-4130
Contact: Michelle Moore (
Varieties: Mozzarella, Provolone

Galbani/Mozzarella Fresca
Tel: 559-752-4823
Contact: Jeff Strah (
Varieties: Fresh Mozzarella and Ricotta

Leprino Foods Company
Tel: 800-LEPRINO (537-4766)
Varieties: Mozzarella, Provolone, Blends, Reduced Fat Cheddar and Monterey Jack, Mexican Cheeses

Marin French Cheese Company
Tel: 707-762-6001; Fax: 707-762-0430
Contact: Maxx Sherman (
Varieties: Camembert, Marin French Blue, Pesto Brie, Pizza Cheese and Schloss

Pacific Cheese Company Inc.
Tel: 916-686-7032; Fax: 916-686-8491
Contact: Bob Leonard, VP Sales & Marketing (
Varieties: All – Cheddar, Jack, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Provolone, etc.

Peterson Company, The
Tel: 800-735-0313 x 470
Contact: Chuck Lyden
Varieties: Mozzarella, Colby, Jack, Provolone

Saputo Cheese USA Inc.
Tel: 301-678-6325; Fax: 301-678-6615
Contact: John Douglas (
Varieties: Mozzarella, Provolone, String, Shreds and Dices

Schreiber Foods Inc.
Tel: 920-455-3275
Contact: Randy Brandsma (
Varieties: All varieties

Sierra Nevada Cheese Company Inc.
Tel: 530-934-8660; Fax: 530-934-8670
Contact: Ben Gregersen (
Varieties: Organic Cheddar, Organic Jacks, Part-Skim Mozzarella, other specialty cheeses upon request

Vintage Cheese Company
Tel: 559-897-4634; FAX: 559-897-4635
Contact: Jonathan Van Ryn (
Varieties: Cheddar, Edam

Last Updated May 2011