Tony Gemignani’s Do’s And Don’ts To Making The Perfect Cheese Pizza

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Tony Gemignani
Tony Gemignani

In honor of National Cheese Pizza Day, which is today, we reached out to 12-time world pizza champion and owner of local pizza empire Tony Gemignani to get the 411 on what it takes to make a memorable cheese pie. Gemignani is the owner of North Beach hotspot, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Chicago-style pizzeria, Capo’s, and multiple locations of Slice House, a fast casual concept where pizza is sold by the slice. Not only does he own 14 pizza-centric restaurants in Northern California, but he’s also the proprietor of the International School of Pizza, here in SF, where he certifies chefs from all over the world in the art of making the perfect pie. Gemignani is one of three people in the entire world to hold the prestigious title of U.S. Ambassador of Neapolitan Pizza by the city of Naples. He’s a pizza genius and culinary personality that is in high demand. He’s taught everyone from Jay Leno to Racheal Ray his secrets and now he’s sharing them with us!

Gemignani says there is something nostalgic about cheese pizza and its comforting quality makes it eternally pleasing to just about everyone on the planet. “When you grow up, the first pizza that you fall in love with is cheese pizza. Any kid can vouch for that—cheese pizza is really your go-to. Anything that can take you back to when you were a kid is self-rewarding and very satisfying. Cheese pizzas can bring you back to no-stress, simpler times. The cheese pizza that you fell in love with as a kid is always in your heart,” Gemignani explained to Haute Living. Here are his tips for crafting the most delicious cheese pizza at home.

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Do use good dough.

“A great dough is essential, and using a good starter in your dough is essential as well. Look for a flour that is high gluten and high protein, and for a healthier, lighter dough—make your dough the night before and allow it time to rise.

Do add a browning agent to the dough.

“Mix a browning agent into your dough by adding a little honey, sugar, or powdered malt. This gives your crust the nice “browning” effect you see at restaurants.”

Don’t buy fake skim cheese.

“Whole milk mozzarella is going to give a better taste and melt than skim milk mozzarella will, and it’s important to buy a cheese that doesn’t have enhancers in it. Try to buy cheese without fake chemicals. If you have a higher quality cheese, less cheese needs to be used on the pizza because it will melt better.”

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Do shop at Whole Foods or Mollie Stones for cheese.

“You can find high quality cheese at high quality food stores such as Whole Foods or Mollie Stones, as well as specialty Italian stores or delicatessens.”

Do get creative with the cheese.

“I use any variety from fresh mozzarella, burrata, pecorino, parmesan, and many more. You can put cheese on when you first put the pie into the oven or halfway through for a nice melt.”

Don’t be afraid to put cheese on after you’re done baking the pie.

“Finishing cheeses also work great, a lot of people don’t realize that you can put cheese on after the bake, such as feta, goat cheese, asiago, romano, fontina—all of those cheese are better added on after the bake.”

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Do use a box grater to shred cheese.

“The thickness of shredded cheese is important. If the shred is too thin, it melts into the tomato sauce.

Do purchase a pizza steel.

“It’s best to purchase a pizza steel over a pizza stone—and it’s great to invest in two, not just one. You can begin cooking your pizza on the top rack, then move to the bottom rack—this creates a nice crisp crust. Cook for five minutes on both racks. Steel is better because it gets hotter faster and retains that heat better than stone. Your home oven should be extremely hot—500 degrees.”

Don’t forget about the tomato sauce.

“Stay away from seasoning in the sauce, keep seasoning as a topping only. A light tomato sauce with a light salt—the important thing is to keep the ratio between sauce and cheese. Lightly seasoned sauce is better than over seasoned. America has a problem with over seasoning, so the simpler you keep it, the better it will be. Sauce is about tomato and not the seasoning.”

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