You probably didn't need scientific confirmation of the fact that mozzarella is a delicious cheese that's even more delicious when it's melted on a pizza. But in case you did, the researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand have explained exactly why we tend to prefer some nice and gooey mozz.
According to their paper, "Quantification of Pizza Baking Properties of Different Cheese, and Their Correlation with Cheese Functionality," published in the August issue of the Journal of Food Science, mozzarella's scientific properties, like its high moisture content and natural elasticity, allow it to react to heat in a way that's the most desired by customers:
In the oven, the water in the cheese evaporates to create steam, which causes it to bubble. Since mozzarella is so stretchy, the bubbles can expand and become fairly big. As the bubbles grow, the oil sitting on top slides off and the exposed mozzarella starts to brown. [NPR]
Other cheeses, the researchers found, were less successful. Cheddar, for instance, could brown beautifully, but its relative inelasticity prevented it from bubbling up and getting gooey. Gruyere had the opposite problem: It made some lovely bubbles, but failed to brown at all.
So what is a cheesemonger to do with all of this knowledge? Researcher Bryony James says that understanding cheese's scientific properties could help us make an even more perfect pizza in the future. "When we understand food right down to its micro-structural level," she says, "it gives us the levers we need to change the way it behaves."
If that means we're one step closer to discovering a way to create an oozing, perfectly browned pizza made entirely of Brie and Gruyere, I'll take it.