Growing up in a small southern town in the 70’s and 80’s, pizza was not something many of us had much. Occasionally Mom would buy the Chef Boyardee Pizza kits. Remember these?
It came with a pouch of flour mixture to make the dough, a small tin can of pizza sauce, a tin of grated cheese and a packet of pepperoni. We would add other items such as onions and mushrooms, but I remember thinking how exotic we were living if we made a “homemade” pizza at home. The crust never came out great but we thought it was great.
It wasn’t until the 80’s during high school that our town got a Pizza Hut on the northside. It was right across from the Sonic and skating rink. Many Saturday nights started out at “The Hut” for pan pizza and salad followed by hours of “cruising” around town playing one of the five 8-tracks my best friend, Tina and I had to play. You started at Sonic, made a loop across to The Hut and then down to the middle of town and out High School Avenue to Lumberton Road where you’d either sit in the A&P parking lot, Pope Tire or stop in at Mrs. Cook’s Dairy Dip. Great memories.
I fell in love immediately when I had my first pan pizza delivered fresh from the oven to our table covered in the famous red-checked plastic tablecloth. The cheese was gooey and the crust was buttery and crusty on the edges and soft in the middle – just how I like it. Going forward I set my standard for a good pizza on how close to that first experience I had back in 1980. Fast forward to 1987 Nashville. There were Pizza Huts and Papa John’s and Dominos galore but then there was Mom and Pop pizza places everywhere. I really didn’t understand that for most people, they grew up loving a Mom and Pop pizza joint where recipes were handed down from generation to generation. Suddenly my standards grew beyond that pan pizza at Pizza Hut.
As Cas shared in Wednesday’s blog (http://foodflippers.net/st-louis-gateway-feast/), he grew up in St. Louis which had a large Italian population. Imo’s was his pizza joint of choice and he talked about St. Louis style pizza often as we were getting to know one another. I kept thinking, “What’s the big deal? There’s good pizza everywhere.” It wasn’t until my first visit to St. Louis after we married sometime around 2007 or 2008 that I finally got to try an Imo’s pizza. People….oh my gosh….I was NOT prepared for how good it is….I mean REALLY good. It’s not really the thin crust or sauce…it’s the cheese….PROVEL cheese. Cas wrote some about this on Wednesday. It was developed especially for Imo’s and you can only get it in and around St. Louis. You can order it online and have it delivered to your door but every visit to see family, we stock up on Provel cheese before heading home.
Last year Cas had a listener of his morning show call in to share that he grew up in the same neighborhood. Turns out they went to the same school district even though their paths did not cross at the time. He visits family there often and brings us back frozen Imo’s pizzas. He even brought his portable pizza oven to the station one morning and surprised us with an Imo’s pizza for breakfast. Provel – making friends, one pizza at a time! Thanks, Steve! (Small world!!)
I decided that I would research and see if I could figure out how they make this cheese. I ran across a recipe a few years ago that I have played with and it’s pretty close. I am sharing the recipe here and I really hope you’ll take the time to try it. I would say make your own crust and sauce but if you do not have a lot of time, just buy the store brand you like best and give the cheese recipe a go. Better yet, go visit St. Louis which is an awesome city and just enjoy the real thing in person.
P.S. I still love Pizza Hut pan pizza though…extra cheese please!
Figuring out how to make Provel cheese. There are three cheese mixtures that make the profile: swiss, provolone and white cheddar. The addition of the Liquid Smoke along with a few seasonings come close to the original – at least to our taste buds. The cheese is so great, you really do not need a lot of extra toppings but if you must, try to stick to pepperoni. It’s the only pizza I love without toppings. I like to make my own pizza sauce, so I will add that recipe as well. Again, you can totally use your favorite store brand if you aren’t interested in making your own.
Kopy-Kat Provel Cheese
1 c. grated white cheddar (if you can’t find white, go with Monterrey Jack)
1 c. grated provolone
1 c. grated swiss
2-3 T. Liquid Smoke
½ t. pepper
½ t. garlic powder
1 T. dried parsley
- Grate all cheeses. PLEASE, get the block cheese – the grated stuff is coated with starch and just doesn’t compare.
- Mix in Liquid Smoke and seasonings until well combined.
- Sprinkle over waiting pizza crust covered with sauce.
- If adding toppings, add on top of cheese.
- Bake on a pizza stone or baking sheet on 425 degrees until crust is golden and cheese bubbly.
Tracey’s Pizza Sauce
(makes enough for two medium pizzas)
1 can fire roasted, crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
½ t. salt
½ t. pepper
½ t. red pepper flakes
½ t. oregano
3-5 basil leaves chopped or 1 t. dried
2 t. sugar
3 T. Olive Oil
- Sauté onions in olive oil until soft.
- Add garlic and cook 30 seconds longer.
- Add in crushed tomatoes, paste and all seasonings, mix well.
- Simmer on low for about 15-20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
- Let cool slightly, smooth over pizza crust.
Recipe makes enough for two medium pizzas and can be stored in the refrigerator up to a week.