Old Forge-style Cheese Pizza
Old Forge Pizza is a unique regional style that’s largely served only in the coal mining region of Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA). A rectangular pizza baked in a steel pan — 10 x 14 inches sliced into 8 “cuts” or 11 x 17 inches sliced into 12 — and layered with slightly sweet tomato sauce and a host of melty, shredded cheeses, it’s a regional favorite that’s great for a party.
Old Forge, the town where this pizza gets its name, has one of the highest number of pizzerias per capita in the world. Dubbed “The Pizza Capital of the World,” its 11 pizzerias serve a population of about 8,500 hungry residents in its tiny 3.4-square-mile footprint. This pizza served in “trays” and “cuts” (translation: Whole pizzas and slices) is ubiquitous in its birthplace, but it’s hard to find outside Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Enter Jim Mirabelli, owner and chief pizza officer of the NEPA Pizza Review, a guide to all things Northeastern Pennsylvania-style pizza. Jim took all the best parts of a professionally made Old Forge pizza — crispy, medium-thick crust plus decadent cheese pulls — and made a recipe that works outside the confines of pizzerias, so you can try this regional favorite even if you never make it to Pennsylvania.
“The process involves what I call a ‘layered bake,’ which means assembling the pizza in stages and baking after each ingredient layer is added,” Jim says, noting this helps to “attain a crispy bottom on this medium-thickness pan pizza.”
The melty, stringy cheese blend is a signature of Old Forge pizza. Jim suggests a blend of shredded mozzarella with brick (the Wisconsin cheese known for its use in Detroit-style pizza) and white American cheeses. If you don’t have access to brick, he loves white cheddar or Muenster. Like many Pennsylvania natives, Jim swears by Cooper’s sharp white. The 125-year-plus Pennsylvania brand’s American cheese is known for a super creamy texture and superior flavor. Because it’s only retailed in five-pound loaves, Cooper’s can be a commitment. But in stores where it’s available, it’s typically stocked at deli counters where you can buy as much as you like and even specify preferred thickness (it’s beloved for grilled cheese, mac and cheese and many other edible delights).
Don’t have access to white American cheese at all? Don’t panic. “The good news is that despite popular belief, there are really no specific rules that define Old Forge pizza cheese blends,” Jim notes. “I was just with an owner who is using 100 percent white cheddar and another who said he’s using straight brick. Some only use American. Some use up to four or five different cheeses!”
In that situation, havarti is a good match (it's typically mild and creamy). Gouda too (“Just don’t go north of 25 percent gouda in the cheese blend,” Jim offers).
While Old Forge pizzas come in two major varieties, “Red” and “White,” this recipe specifically covers the “Red” variety. To make an authentic Old Forge white pizza, most of the process remains the same. In place of the Old Forge-style pizza sauce, you’d add Italian seasoning (think oregano, rosemary, basil, black pepper and garlic) to the cheese. At Old Forge stalwarts like Cafe Rinaldi, Revello’s, Arcaro & Genell, white pies also often get the chopped broccoli, sliced tomatoes and garlic, and, less frequently, spinach, treatments.
If you’re interested in making the white pizzas noted above, finely chop, season and sauté the broccoli or spinach, reserve, and top the pizzas prebake. Apply the finely sliced tomato and garlic raw, and finish the pizza with a vigorous amount of Italian seasoning and Parmesan à la nearby stalwart Colarusso’s Cafe.
If you really feel like going native, try sautéed shrimp and peppers (Old Forge-ians go with everything from sweet to hot to dried), a delightfully idiosyncratic NEPA topping combination applied pre-bake over the cheese.
Whatever you choose, this recipe’s a delicious “cut” from one of the most pizza-loving parts of the US.
This recipe appears in A Love Letter to Northeastern Pennsylvania-style Pizza by Jim Mirabelli.
We recommend using gas for this recipe, as the bake requires manipulation of temperature that’s easiest with a gas flame.
3 hours, 30 minutes
3 hours passive
30 minutes active
2 x 10 by 14-inch pizzas
2 to 4
2 x 450-gram Northeastern Pennsylvania-style Pizza Dough balls
shortening or butter, to grease the pan
240 grams (1 cup) Old Forge-style Pizza Sauce
240 grams (2 cups) shredded mozzarella
120 grams (1 cup) shredded brick (white cheddar or Muenster will do)
120 grams (1 cup) white American cheese (preferably Cooper’s sharp white), shredded (if from a loaf) or thinly sliced
120 grams (1 cup) Pecorino Romano
Using the NEPA Pizza Dough recipe, make the dough and portion it into 2 x 450-gram pieces. Allow the dough balls to rest at room temperature for 3 hours, or until they have doubled in size and are not resistant to stretching.
Grease a deep-sided 10 x 14-inch pan liberally with shortening or butter. Place the dough evenly in your pan and gently press it into the corners without creating a raised-edge crust. The dough should be uniform and flat. If the dough resists stretching to the corners, cover it with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then gently stretch it again. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let it rise for 1 hour at room temperature.
Preheat your oven to 700°F (370°C), measuring the stone temperature with an infrared thermometer. Once the stone has preheated, dial the flame to low.
Remove the plastic wrap, place the pan in the oven and bake the crust for 2 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and bake for 2 additional minutes.Retrieve the pan from the oven and use a spatula to remove the par-baked pizza “shell.” Be careful — the dough will be hot! Flip the shell upside down on a cooling rack to allow moisture to escape for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, return the flame to the highest setting until the stone temperature rebounds to 700°F (370°C).
Flip the shell and return it to the pan. Spoon on half of the Old Forge-style pizza sauce, covering the entire par-baked shell except for a ½-inch border for the crust.
With the flame still on high, return the pizza to the oven for 1 minute, rotating it 180 degrees after 30 seconds, until the sauce begins to steam. Remove from the oven.
Sprinkle with half the Pecorino Romano, then cover with half each of the mozzarella, brick and white American cheeses.
With the stone temp at 700°F (370°C), dial back the flame to an ultra-low setting, then place the pizza in the oven. Bake for 1 minute, rotate 180 degrees and bake for 1 additional minute. Turn off the oven flame completely and use the residual stone heat to cook the pizza for an additional 3 to 4 minutes. If your Ooni pizza oven has a door, leave it open.
When the cheese is melted and begins to brown slightly and the visible crust is golden brown, your pizza is ready!
Remove the pizza from the oven and let it cool on a rack for a few minutes. Slice into 8 squares and enjoy! Repeat the process for the second pizza.