St. Louis Pizza: It’s All About the Provel Cheese
St. Louis pizza reflects the character of its city. It doesn’t need to be a contender in the pizza wars the way Chicago and New York do, with proponents advocating for the city’s style of pizza in far-flung towns. St. Louis requires no such outside validation. It's happy doing its own thing.
What makes a St. Louis–style pizza? Is it the cracker-thin crust, more pliable than Chicago’s thin crust, yet cut similarly, in squares? Is it the distinctly sweet sauce, likely influenced by the city's Sicilian immigrants and candy merchants? Yes, that’s part of it, but for the majority of pizzerias serving up St. Louis–style pies, it’s all about the cheese.
Meet Provel, St. Louis Pizza's Key Ingredient
Imagine biting into a slice of pizza: the mozzarella stretches out in long, ductile strands until finally the teeth win out with a snap.
On a St. Louis pizza, forget all that. Its cheese—provel, a processed mixture of provolone, swiss, and white cheddar—doesn’t stretch or bounce. Served atop the aforementioned cracker-thin, yeast-less crust, provel makes a clean break when cut or bitten into. Even in the refrigerated cases at the supermarket, the stuff is soft and malleable.
An Acquired Taste
Fans describe provel as sharp, buttery, and slightly smoky (indeed, liquid smoke is sometimes an ingredient). And it has plenty of fans despite being virtually unknown outside St. Louis.
In fact, a recent NPR report said that some 2 million pounds of provel is consumed each year, on salads and sandwiches as well as pizza. It's a stat that might shock tourists visiting the city, who generally tend to find the love for provel confusing. St. Louis natives don't care what anyone else thinks of their hometown cheese, however, and its pizzerias continue to churn out provel-topped pies.
When asked where to get the best St. Louis–style pizza, most St. Louis residents point to the popular Imo's Pizza. First opened in 1964, Imo’s was the first in the city to deliver pizzas to customers’ doorsteps. Today, Imo’s even crafts its own blend of provel, available in area grocery stores.
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