The beauty of pizza lies in its simplicity, but the beauty of simplicity is that it frees you up to complicate things in your own special, delicious way, as evidenced by adventurous slice-heads constantly pushing the cheesy envelope into uncharted territory.
Usually reserved for the highest forms of creativity such as painting, sculpture, and music, this kind of perpetual evolution is rarely seen in the culinary world, meaning pizza has finally transcended its snackdom and become art!
That bread isn’t bread anymore, it’s a canvas. The sauce? A backdrop to your masterpiece.
The cheese? Why it’s the culinary equivalent of celestials burning in Van Gough’s Starry Night. And the toppings are the details that add depth to your creation.
However, in order to create, you must conceptualize, which is why I’ve composed this comprehensive guide covering cheese choice, final touch toppings, and more. All you have to do is pick your favorites and cook your perfect pizza.
But before we dive into this guide, it’s my pleasure to extend a warm welcome to the loyal readers of yourcheesefriend.com.
This site now falls under the Queen’s rule… the Coriander Queen, that is! And we couldn’t be happier to have you.
- Which Cheese Is Best For Your Pizza?
- Pizza Toppings
- Finishing Touches
- Final Thoughts
Which Cheese Is Best For Your Pizza?
Ahh, melty, moist, mild, mouthwatering mozzarella — It can do no wrong. Yet according to legend, we have pure chance to thank for this dairy delight.
The story goes that it was created by a cheese maker after accidentally knocking curds into a pot of hot water.
If you’re looking for that quintessential stretch from your cheese, there’s really no substitute for a heaping helping of mozzarella, but don’t hesitate to experiment with a secondary cheese too and expand your horizons.
Generally speaking, I’m against choosing cheddar before deciding on my pizza toppings. I’m just not a big fan of this everyman’s cheese on my slice, but certain toppings demand an audience with lord cheddar!
Bologna, for example, shares a special relationship with cheddar, as does brisket, pulled pork, and Brussels sprouts.
Oh, and broccoli and cheddar are a match made in heaven, especially when underscored by a mildly sweet sauce.
Brie and salmon pizza changed my life — Real talk! But that’s by no means the extent of brie’s relationship with our favorite Italian cuisine. Buttery, creamy, mild… it pairs well with literally everything in this guide.
Somehow though, whenever I get the brie out for a pizza-making session, I’m drawn to the seafood category for my toppings.
Tuna and brie is a delight, and the buttery gentility of this cheese is the perfect backdrop for some salty anchovies or sweet fruit like apples, strawberries, blueberries, or cranberries.
There was a pizza joint in my old town whose specialty was a goats cheese, Gruyère, red onion, and toasted walnut pizza, and it was my favorite food of all time — Still is.
I often dream about that beauty and wake in a reverie knowing there’s no way I can go on an interstate adventure purely for the sake of picking up a pizza, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make our own version.
Goats cheese is a super flavorful option that works just as well melted as it does when placed on top once your pie comes out of the oven, providing textural variation.
As it’s such a rich cheese, I’d advise against pairing it with powerful toppings like brisket or bacon, but prosciutto is another story.
Bringing the essence of bacon in a much crispier and milder package, prosciutto is the perfect meaty topping for a goats cheese pizza, perhaps with a few bits of shredded chicken thrown on for good measure!
Blue cheese is definitely an acquired taste, but the right amount of the right kind can take a pizza from “kind of tasty”, to “oh my god I can’t get enough of this in my mouth at one time!”
Honestly, even those who normally stick their nose up (or away) from this smelly cheese will enjoy a very mild variant on their pie.
The trick is to be sparing with it, and don’t worry about waste, because you can freeze whatever blue cheese you have left over. It’s what I’d call an accent cheese, by which I mean you’ll want a subdued cheese to do most of the heavy lifting.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about blue cheese on pizza is that it works remarkably well with most sauce types.
I like to pair it with a sweet tomato or BBQ sauce myself, but whatever saucy sidekick you choose, it’ll create something wholly unique.
My favorite blue cheese/topping combo is chicken or beef with artichokes and wilted spinach, but if I’ve chosen a savory sauce, there’s not a force in this world that can stop my caramelizing some red onions in balsamic and flicking them all across my pizza Jackson Pollock style!
The slightly grainy texture of ricotta makes it a true game-changer in the world of custom pizzas. If you’d prefer a mostly smooth finish, add a few molehills of ricotta here and there to give your pizza a more diverse mouthfeel.
It has a slightly nutty texture that adds really nice extra dimension to a slice, but be warned, it’s easy to overpower this mild-mannered whey cheese, which is why I’d steer clear of sweet sauces in favor of a herby tomato number — Basil, lemon, and tomato sauce is a good one.
If you were so inclined, ricotta also plays nice with fruit, which I know is a controversial topic, but give blueberries or cranberries a go on your next ricotta slice and you won’t be disappointed.
Gouda is often compared to cheddar, as they’re both great table cheeses, but as far as pizza’s concerned, I’m 100% team gouda. With undertones of butterscotch and nuts, it’s a shoo-in for a white or jerk sauce pizza with any kind of beef or chicken.
It can also form a nice counterbalance with the earthiness of liver.
For those after a simple slice, I’d recommend a classic oregano tomato sauce, plenty of gouda, a few mushrooms, and maybe some rocket as a garnish. Or, for meat lovers, it’s dynamite on a classic pepperoni pizza.
As a cheeseboard staple, you can also throw some fruits into the mix if you’re up for challenging established pizza norms.
Remember when Pizza Hut used to have Parmesan shakers right there on the table alongside the salt and pepper?
I used to unapologetically abuse this cheesy privilege, even going as far as removing the lid and pouring it free-flow-style until my already cheesed-out pizza was covered in a blanket of Parmesan snow.
In fact, I’m probably part of the reason they canned the table Parmesan in the first place.
It was too late though… I had acquired a taste for this granular delight, and I would sprinkle it on almost every homemade pizza I made for years to come.
While it’s not a good choice as a primary cheese, it’s a great secondary flavor enhancer. Sometimes I’ll even leave out the cheese layer altogether and simply sprinkle some Parmesan on my toppings.
A versatile cheese, it works well with meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and any sauce, but there’s just something about Parmesan and sweet sauce that keeps me coming back for more.
Gruyère is lovely and creamy with a nutty kick, but it’s not quite as versatile as some other cheeses in this guide. The reason? Its sodium content.
Yep, Gruyère is a salty sailor, so you’d be wise to use a reduced-sodium sauce and go easy with the seasoning on your toppings. Brisket, for instance, would be overkill in the salt department, as would bacon.
On the other hand, it’s hard to beat Gruyère on a veggie pizza. The salt content really makes these green pizzas pop!
Honestly, I’ll eat Camembert with anything, but if I’m making a Camembert pizza, you know your boy is scattering a bunch of cranberries on to add little bursts of sweetness to every other bite — Yum!
Roasted garlic is non-negotiable too, and when it comes to meat and vegetables, the sky’s the limit… go wild; it works with them all. It’s also a pretty good option for fishy slices, particularly salmon with a wine-infused tomato sauce.
Things to know about pepper jack cheese:
- It’s got a good kick to it.
- It has a super high moisture content, so it melts in seconds.
Pepper jack and chicken are BFFs, and spinach really hits the spot too.
As you’d imagine, it’s best to limit the spiciness of your sauce when opting for pepper jack, but other than that, it’s pretty versatile.
I know what you’re thinking… American cheese? Are you insane? Well… maybe, but trust me, when we’re talking about American cheese on pizza, I’m perfectly lucid!
You’ll no doubt be tempted to freeze your American cheese if you have a surplus that’s just going to go off in your refrigerator, but it’s in your best interest to throw it all on a pizza and have the meal of your life.
This thin, creamy cheese melts like nothing else in the oven, with little areas crisping up into super tasty scorched splotches, adding a more dynamic flavor to the pizza.
Finish things up with some charred vegetables or lean meats and you’ve got a chef’s kiss moment on your hands.
Pimento cheese is a spicy hybrid of mayonnaise, cheddar cheese, and a few other choice ingredients, meaning it could serve as both your sauce and your cheese option if you like, so if you’re wondering what to do with your leftover pimento cheese, there’s your answer!
Surprisingly, it’s actually pretty versatile too! It’s a fantastic option for a veggie- or tuna-topped pizza, and prosciutto isn’t a bad idea either.
Peanut Butter Roasted Garlic Cloves
I remember the day my friend introduced me to peanut butter roasted garlic cloves. I regard it as one of the most mouthwateringly brilliant culinary epiphanies I’ve ever experienced.
If you’re after incredible flavor without relying on meats or overpowering sauces, roasted garlic is the way forward.
Broccoli (especially charred broccoli) is such an underrated pizza topping and the perfect way to healthy-up a meaty extravaganza.
It doesn’t matter what cheese or sauce you go for if broccoli is the star of the show up top, but it does share a special affinity with blue cheese.
Sun-dried tomatoes are so jam-packed with flavor, they remain identifiable, even against a tomato sauce backdrop. I wouldn’t put them on a pizza raw, but baked… oh boy, with chicken and mushrooms, forget about it!
Sweetcorn isn’t to everyone’s tastes but it certainly elevates a chicken pizza with mild or spicy cheese. It works best with tomato and sweet sauces.
Artichoke’s a real dark horse. They blew onto the scene out of nowhere and I’m overjoyed they did. These oily, tangy vegetables refuse to play second fiddle to anything, including the most flavorful meats and fish.
Whether raw, baked or caramelized, the humble red onion can do no wrong. In my opinion, it’s an essential part of any veggie or vegan pie.
As a life rule, I will always add mushrooms to my pizza. It doesn’t matter what else is going on there, mushrooms are coming along for the ride!
For those who are more discerning than me, it’s probably not the best topping for fish pizzas, but everything else is A-okay!
Sweet potatoes can be a real pain to cut without a good knife, but if you’re willing to put in the effort, the payoff is insane.
Sweet potato is the perfect topping to kick a vegan pizza up a notch, and as it cooks relatively quickly, as long as you dice it small enough, there’s no need to pre-prepare it.
For vegan pizzas, I’d pair sweet potato with loads of fresh rocket and some plain veg such as tender stem broccoli to balance things out.
Artichoke, on the other hand, isn’t the best choice as it has a sweet tang of its own, which will compete with sweet potato to the detriment of them both.
Potatoes aren’t your typical pizza topping, but slice them up Dauphinoise style, lay them on a bed of crème fraîche, top with crispy curls of bacon, and you’ll understand why they’re in this guide.
Side note — Crème fraîche often sits in our freezers, long forgotten, or simply expires in the back of our refrigerators, but we can curb this wastefulness by realizing its potential as a pizza “sauce”.
Dill pickle isn’t the most versatile veg, but I once had a thin crust garlic sauce pizza topped with mozzarella, Parmesan, and dill pickles, and it was a religious experience. I urge you to make that very same pizza today.
If I’m in the mood for a pizza with more of a fresh finish, asparagus is a given, especially if I’m getting experimental with a crème fraîche sauce, potato, and kale.
Brussels sprouts are a mistreated vegetable, and when you try them on a rich brisket pizza, nestled into a blanket of melty cheddar or Gruyère, topped with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about!
Healthy pizzas can be just as delicious as the unhealthy kind, especially with some well-seasoned, seared kale.
This leafy green is great with pretty much any tomato or white sauce, and it works well with most cheeses, but a mixture of mozzarella and blue cheese is a particularly awesome foundation for kale.
You knew this was coming… Welcome to the Hawaiian debate. I myself absolutely adore pineapple on pizza.
In fact, even if my other toppings really don’t go with pineapple, I’ll still put some on there; that’s how much I love it.
I understand why so many people are against it, but I reckon a lot of the distaste comes down to the texture of pineapple and the chunks being a little too large.
If you think you don’t like pineapple on pizza, my advice is to crush some pineapple rather than dice it then drizzle a small amount over your slice — No chunks, no out-of-place textures!
Unless you’re sharing this imaginative dressing with a friend, you’ll no doubt have some leftover, but not to worry, as you can freeze crushed pineapple for up to 2 months.
We don’t really think of olives as fruits, but they are, and they’re one of the greatest pizza toppings in history. On their own, they can be a bit much, but embedded in tons of melty mozzarella, there’s nothing better!
I can feel your collective shivers of repulsion, but hear me out… blueberry pizza is DIVINE! Ricotta is a good cheese choice for blueberry pizza, and as for sauce, I’d suggest crème fraîche or garlic.
Many mistakenly believe blueberries and bilberries to be the same fruit, and while there are some definite overlaps, they’re different in a few key ways, the most important of which is flavor.
Bilberries are more tart than blueberries, and they have an acidic kick that helps them cut through some fairly strong accompaniments such as Camembert and bacon.
While avocados are mostly associated with health nuts these days, there’s something about the texture and transparent flavor of these fruits that kicks a meat feast pizza up by about 10 notches!
Cubed avocado with BBQ pulled pork is bonkers and scrumptious in equal measure.
Cranberries are such underrated fruits in general, but we’ve really been sleeping on them when it comes to pizza. As long as you’re not using a sweet sauce, these little rubies of flavor will make your pizza miles better — Fact!
At first, apple seems like a truly ridiculous topping suggestion, but if you’ve ever enjoyed apple and cheese as a snack, you’ll know that there is some precedent for this crisp fruit working on a pie.
Still disgusted? Try a brie, chicken, and green apple pizza and get back to me.
I have to admit, strawberries are a touch too far for me on pizza, but again, they work well on cheese boards, so loads of people are giving them a shot and lovin’ it!
Pulled pork pizza is one of my all-time favorite toppings, but I have to admit, it doesn’t share any synergy with tomato sauces, especially those infused with powerful herbs.
BBQ, on the other hand, is a no-brainer, but (top tip alert!) don’t rely solely on your sauce to add extra flavor.
To make the most of a pulled pork pizza, season it with a quality dry rub and cook it slowly in a Dutch oven to achieve that crispy, melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Combine it with a medium-strength cheese such as mature cheddar and maybe even some sliced mushrooms to tie things together.
When you give pulled pork pizza a shot, if you use a shoulder joint, you may be unsure what to do with the leftover pork skin. Well, how about more pizza?
Pork rind is bursting with savory flavors if you prepare it right, and the crunchy texture adds an intriguing element to what might be quite a sloppy dish, depending on how crisp you can get your base of course.
I’d go with a sweet sauce in this instance, topped with something spicy like pimento or pepper jack cheese. These three flavors may be starkly different but they never clash.
We all struggle to get through the last of that giant pack of bologna we all seem to have in our fridges at one point or another, and while it might be easier to freeze leftover bologna, pizza is a more creative (not to mention tasty) solution.
Bacon or ham is a great way to push your flavors into the stratosphere, but the salt content of these pork products can eclipse more subtle elements of your pizza, so it’s best not to get too carried away — Your arteries will thank you.
Prosciutto has a more delicate, complex flavor profile than normal bacon or ham. There’s a faint sweetness to it and depending on the seasonings can be quite fragrant.
Tender, juicy beef cooked at 350 °F is one of my favorite foods ever, and putting it on a big, dirty pizza makes it even better, but beef doesn’t have to be cooked to perfection to work well on a pie.
I’m partial to pizza-fying beef from other meals that won’t survive the reheat.
For example, when reheating frozen beef stroganoff, the sauce can dry up, leaving nothing but a faint coating on the meat.
Instead of eating a subpar meal or adding tons of liquid to the meal and diluting the flavor, I take the beef pieces and put them on a pizza — Yum!
Chicken in all its forms is an absolute delight on literally any pizza (excluding veggie and vegan pies of course).
You can take leftovers from your chicken pita night, your beer can chicken bash, or if you’re a fancy pants, your chicken cordon bleu banquet, pop them on a pizza and keep the party going!
Leftover turkey is a given throughout the holiday season, and if you’re done to dust with turkey sandwiches, keep things fresh by throwing it on a pizza or two.
With a relatively subdued flavor, turkey allows you to go wild in the sauce department. I’d opt for a BBQ sauce, but not just any BBQ sauce.
Heat some of this sweet sauce in a pot then stir in some horseradish, or, failing that, some Dijon mustard to give it an extra kick!
Conversely, It’s best not to be too adventurous with your cheese in this instance, as you don’t want to lose the turkey altogether.
Duck pizza, I hear you ask? Yep, duck pizza! It’s a very rich meat, so it’s best to choose something like mozzarella as your cheese then zhuzh it up with figs, arugula, and a light drizzle of hoisin sauce.
Liver and onions is a classical meal, but we can bring this traditional staple into the modern era by tossing it on a pizza with some fresh gouda and a rich tomato sauce. Whether you opt for beef or lamb liver is entirely up to you.
A nice, fragrant blue cheese or a combination of mozzarella and feta goes down a storm with some tender lamb on a pizza.
Caramelized red onion and torn parsley will also complement the slightly gamey flavor of the lamb. For a Greek twist on an Italian classic, combine ground lamb, feta, and a lemon pesto sauce.
Brisket is another big leftovers eat, but don’t let it defeat you. You spent far too long cooking this thing, seasoning it to perfection, striving for that perfect internal color.
Instead of letting it take up valuable real estate in your fridge or freezer, throw a brisket pizza night and use it up in one fell swoop.
Brisket is an exceedingly rich meat, so you have quite a lot of options when it comes to sauce and cheese. If you’d like your seasoning to shine through, choose a milder sauce like rosemary and tomato.
Alternatively, a simple drizzle of garlic oil might do the trick. If you’d prefer your other flavors to challenge the brisket, consider honeyed BBQ or, for a creamy curveball, alfredo sauce.
Cheese-wise, you can’t go wrong with a sharp cheddar, hearty brie, or if you’re feeling adventurous, pepper jack. And on the veg front, I’d go for roasted Brussels sprouts or steamed asparagus.
Anchovies are a very, very fishy fish packed with umami flavoring — They can be your pizza’s best friend or its worst enemy; it all comes down to how effectively you balance out this pungent poisson.
I find sticking with a classic herby tomato sauce to be a good technique, as the acids form a tasty tension that holds these two ingredients in check.
Choosing fresh tomatoes as your topping can also help put a leash on the pelagic force of the anchovy.
You can let these two tasty titans take center stage by choosing mozzarella as your cheese, but if you like to live dangerously, add a third contender to the arena… goats cheese.
While most are more likely to buy tuna for an off-the-wall burger or a nice sandwich filling than a pizza, it makes a fantastic topping given you pair it with the right sauce and cheese.
So, if you have some frozen tuna you’re not sure what to do with or perhaps a can that’s been lingering in the shadows towards the back of your kitchen cupboards, try introducing it to your slice.
A garlic mayonnaise base would go down a storm here, but a muted tomato sauce wouldn’t go amiss either. As for cheese, I’d recommend something quite mild, like cheddar, Gruyère, or a nice fresh mozzarella.
Is salmon an unusual pizza topping? Yes. Is it delicious? Also yes! But you have to build your pizza around this choice of topping, otherwise, things can get a little wacky.
Ricotta is a solid choice, but I’ve seen a few recipes that completely throw the rule book out the window by using cream cheese as the sauce and the cheese. It’s a daring move, but I have to say… It makes a lot of sense.
King Crab Legs
For crab leg pizza, you have to go with an Alfredo or creamy garlic sauce, and mozzarella or ricotta cheese, but you’ve got more leeway when it comes to additional toppings.
I’m big into combining it with bacon for a surf and turf extravaganza, but you can lean into the oceanic flavors by adding some prawns or shrimp. You could then freshen it up a bit with some bell pepper and onion.
Prawns or shrimp pair well with a spicy or Alfredo sauce topped with mozzarella, cheddar, or mild blue cheese.
Add prosciutto for a delicious surf and turf twist. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice isn’t a bad idea either.
Nuts aren’t utilized nearly enough for homemade pizzas and it’s a dang shame! Whether raw or toasted, the following nuts will improve near enough any pizza:
- Pine Nuts
You know what’s better than a pizza with lots of lovely toppings? A pizza that has toppings on its toppings, that’s what.
Visually speaking, a nice green garnish can really liven up a pizza, and you know what they say… we eat with our eyes first.
Here are a few of my all-time favorite garnishes for pizzas:
- Pea Shoots
- Raw Spinach
- Edible Flowers
We’ve covered a lot of ground bread here today, but the fun’s not over yet. Before we can cook our heavenly pizzas, we need to spare a thought for seasonings.
- Basil — Nothing adds a kick of freshness to a pizza than some torn basil leaves; however, basil is an incredibly powerful flavor. Rather than accent your meal, it will take control, so tread with caution.
- Oregano — Oregano is a more subtle option, adding an undertone of satisfying earthiness to your pizza. Complimenting fish, pork, chicken, vegetables, and even eggs, it’s super versatile too!
- Parsley — Another quite muted flavor, parsley is perfect for adding an extra dimension to a stripped-back pizza.
- Chives — Similar to leeks in flavor, chives can help balance out some of that typical tomato tang coming through in your sauce.
- Thyme — With an earthy, slightly citric flavor (mildly minty on occasion), thyme is a fantastic option for pizzas with fishy toppings.
- Dill — Bright and sweet, dill can work wonders on a pizza. Much like thyme, it goes well with fish but also compliments muted meaty toppings such as turkey and chicken.
- Rosemary — Another herb you don’t normally associate with pizza, rosemary is an absolute delight. Often used to flavor roasted vegetables and meat, it’s more versatile than you think!
- Sage — Sage occupies a similar flavor space as rosemary, but it has a little more presence, so, much like with basil, it pays to be sparing with this herb when applying the finishing touches to your pizza.
Dried spices are fine in a pinch, but if you have the time and ingredients, I’d always recommend preparing them fresh using a spice grinder or pestle and mortar.
- Black Pepper — Looking to give your pizza a potent kick without adding actual spice, why not grind a generous amount of black pepper on top? It will work particularly well with stronger cheeses.
- Paprika — A smoky note can really set a pizza off, and paprika is the spice for the job. I heartily recommend using paprika on vegetable and meat pizzas with milder cheese.
- Fennel — Fennel is quite difficult to describe. Close in flavor to anise or licorice, it pairs well with toppings and cheeses that can hold their own — We’re talking pulled pork, garlic, parmesan, etc.
- Chili — Fancy a spicy slice, a generous sprinkling of chili flakes is just what the doctor ordered!
- Curry Spices — While a curried pizza isn’t a completely novel idea, it’s certainly not enjoyed enough. I’d recommend preparing a blend with garam masala, cumin, turmeric, ground coriander, and ground cardamom.
There you have it! Hopefully you now have a million and one ideas for your next homemade pizza and beyond; I know I certainly do.
This guide isn’t an exhaustive list of pizza topping possibilities, but it offers an ins