The problem is probably the cheese you are using. Most people use pre-shredded mozzarella cheese to make pizza at home. Even though mozzarella doesn’t have much flavor, its texture and elasticity make it the ideal pizza cheese. The problem with mozzarella is that it is that it has a lot of water in it compared to cheddar, Swiss, or American. Because mozzarella is soft and has a lot of moisture in it, pre-shredded mozzarella sticks together very easily. Because of that, nearly all the pre-shredded mozzarella cheese sold in the United States is coated with cellulose, or sawdust. (Yes, you read that right. I did say sawdust.) The next time you are planning to buy a bag of ‘pizza cheese’, read the ingredients on the bag. Most brands will list the cellulose. A few brands use potato or corn starch instead of sawdust. All these all powdery coatings keep the cheese from sticking together into one big glob, but they also prevent the cheese from melting the way you want it to. The solution is simple. When making pizza at home, don’t buy pre-shredded mozzarella cheese. Buy a ball of mozzarella and shred it yourself when you are making your pizza. Its a little extra work, but the texture and appearance of your finished pizza will be entirely different from what you get when use supermarket ‘pizza cheese.’ Also, try to get mozzarella that is made from fresh milk. A lot of mozzarella cheese is made from condensed skim milk or nonfat dry milk, both of which are cheaper than fresh milk but they make inferior cheese. A good mozzarella cheese ball costs about the same price per pound as pre-shredded mozzarella cheese covered with sawdust, so why not use the good stuff?
This recipe is fast and foolproof!
My first job here in Berkeley was managing the Mel’s Drive-In restaurant downtown. Mel’s Drive-In restaurants are long gone, but the name may sound familiar. A Mels’ Drive-In was featured in the movie American Graffiti, which launched the careers of many famous actors. After Mel’s went bankrupt, another company bought the name and now has Mel’s restaurants in several Bay Area cities, including Berkeley. I learned how to make cheese sauce when I was managing another restaurant in Berkeley, The Station.
Cheese sauce is used in a lot of popular dishes: macaroni & cheese, nachos, potatoes au gratin, etc.; however, most people never make cheese sauce because they don’t think they are up to it. Most cheese sauce recipes start off by making you make a roux, and making roux is tricky. If you don’t cook the flour in your roux long enough, your sauce will be lumpy and pasty. It you cook your roux too long, it will burn, and roux burns very easily. This recipe contains no roux.
The secret to foolproof cheese sauce without roux is Wondra flour. Wondra flour is sold at all supermarkets in the baking section. Wondra looks like regular wheat flour, but it is different. Wondra is precooked flour. That means that when you use Wondra in a sauce, you don’t have to make a roux. You just put everything in the pot and heat it up. To make a professional, restaurant quality cheese sauce, put all the following ingredients in a small pot:
1 cup cold whole milk
2 tablespoons Wondra flour
2 tablespoons butter
dash of salt and pepper
Heat the mixture to a boil over a medium flame, stirring constantly. When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute, stirring continuously. Turn off the heat and add:
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Stir it up. The residual heat in the mixture will melt the cheese. When the cheese is melted, you’re done! That’s all there is too it.
You might be surprised at how many spiffy, expensive restaurants use Wondra to make their fancy sauces. And No – I am not going to name names. My lawyer would yell at me if I did that, and he reads my tenant newsletter. But I know its true. I have seen containers of Wondra flour in the kitchens of some very famous restaurants.
Some foods do not freeze well and taste awful when they are defrosted. I am looking at you, Mr. Broccoli! Mozzarella cheese, on the other hand, freezes very well. When tightly wrapped in plastic, mozzarella cheese tastes and melts fine even after months in the freezer. Mozzarella cheese is much cheaper in big blocks than small ones. A 2 pound block of Galbani mozzarella at Costco costs $2.60 a pound. A 1 pound block of the same brand at Safeway costs $6.60, more than double the price. Don’t buy shredded mozzarella. Admittedly it is convenient, but it doesn’t melt well. That is because packaged shredded mozzarella is coated with sawdust in order to prevent it from sticking together in the bag. Yes, you read that right. I did say sawdust, and almost all brands have it. Some brands of mozzarella call the stuff ‘cellulose’ on the list of ingredients, but that’s just a fancy way of saying ‘sawdust.’ It isn’t just shredded mozzarella that has sawdust in it. Almost all packaged shredded cheese is coated with sawdust. Sawdust is also in most grated cheese, like Kraft Parmesan.