Why American-Style Pizza Cheese Browns More Than Italian-Style

Sometimes the big questions simply keep us up at night. Sleep is elusive, we toss and turn, the sheets get sweaty as we ponder, why are we here? What is the purpose of life? How did the universe begin, and where does it end? How did the dinosaurs go extinct? And one of the most pressing questions of them all: Why do American pizzas get those browned blisters on top, while Italian pizzas remain milky white across their cheesy surface?

Oh ... so you don't think about the visual differences between American and Italian pizza cheese in the wee hours? Well, call us weird and proud. To settle the matter — and to finally get some sleep — we looked into the science behind this phenomenon. If you, too, are curious, read on to find out how moisture and fat affect the look of the cheese atop everyone's favorite food, the humble pizza pie.

It comes down to moisture and fat

You've probably noticed that when you order an Italian-style pizza, what arrives at your table is a smooth, white expanse. Conversely, when you step into an ordinary American pizza joint, the cheese is usually burnished with bubbly brown spots. If you've ever wondered why that is, you're not alone — there are entire threads on Reddit where people ponder this very question.

Apparently, it all comes down to the composition of the cheese. The mozzarella used on top of American-style pies is the brick type you've probably seen in the grocery store. This cheese is high in moisture and relatively low in fat, which affects how it reacts to the heat of a pizza oven. According to the Atlantic, the heat "will create bubbles large enough to break that surface of oil, exposing the moisture in the bubble directly to the oven's heat—meaning that it evaporates, leaving the rest of the cheese to brown."

The mozzarella used on Italian-style pies — think Neapolitan pizza — is a different beast altogether. This fresh mozzarella has a higher fat content, as well as a much higher moisture content. When this pie slides into a pizza oven, the cheese of course melts, but it will "simply stay greasy without browning," per the Atlantic. So, now you know what to expect the next time you order a pizza — no matter which type you prefer.