COLUMN: Ohio Valley Specialty: Cold Cheese Pizza is the best pizza. Here’s why

By Candace Nelson - 3:20 PM

DiCarlos- Columbus

Here's my latest column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

My grandma tells this cute story of when she and my mother hopped in the car to get pizza, strapping my four-year-old self in the car seat in the back.

Once the pizza was secured, my grandma gave me a piece to munch on while on the way back home. Just seconds after the pizza left her hand, it passed between my teeth, over my tongue and through my gullet in the blink of an eye - only the remnants of sauce and cheese on my cheeks were any evidence the pizza existed.

My grandma was aghast at the enthusiasm in which I devoured that piece of pizza - and immediately asked for more - that she continues that story today. It’s way less cute at age 33.

This could have been a sign of my voracious appetite, or, more likely, my love for my hometown pizza.

That pizza? DiCarlo’s.

The cold-cheese pizza found in the Ohio Valley is polarizing because once the dough and sauce are baked, it’s taken out of the oven and then freshly shredded provolone cheese is sprinkled on top so that it gently melts over the bubbly base.

This creates a fresh flavor, rather than a congealed, greasy blob that’s often found on pizza. But, the application of cheese at the end of the cooking process has also earned DiCarlo’s the “cold cheese pizza” moniker.

Though, if you are a seasoned pro, you know to leave the square lid on top of the box for just a few moments to let the heat lightly melt the cheese to perfection, creating an ideal square of crunchy crust, robust sauce and ooey-gooey cheese.

Since 1945, the DiCarlo family has been dishing out the famed pizza in small steel towns throughout the Ohio Valley - the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia, the eastern border of Ohio and spilling over into the Pittsburgh region.

After emigrating from Sora, Italy, to Steubenville, Ohio, in the late 19th century, Michael and Caroline DiCarlo family opened a bakery with Italian bread, cakes, cookies and donuts.

“But when their son, Primo, returned home from serving in WWII, he raved to his family about the popular food he’d spotted everywhere in Italian cafes: pizza,” according to their website.

“Primo saw pizza as a way to stay connected to the family tradition and pursue a business unlike anything else in the valley at the time. His brother Galdo followed him in this venture. The recipe was perfected on borrowed cookie trays from the bakery … Those trays are responsible for both the rectangular shape of the pie we enjoy and, more importantly, led to serving the pizza with cold cheese and pepperoni.”

Primo launched the Steubenville, Ohio, location in 1945 and was the first licensed pizza shop operator in the state. Pizza squares were offered for .10 cents a piece, and just a few years later, Galdo grew the operation by expanding into Weirton, Wheeling, Glen Dale, Elm Grove, and my favorite, Wellsburg.

I love the pizza because, well, it’s delicious. And the memories associated with it.

But I also love DiCarlo’s roots in the area and how intrinsic they are to the communities to which they belong - sponsoring t-ball teams and feeding first-responders.

They’ve defined an entire style of pizza - and made cold cheese cool.


RECIPE: Homemade Ohio Valley Pizza

Being a few hours away from my favorite pizza, DiCarlo’s, has spurred some innovative takes on recreating the classic square pizza. While this isn’t a perfect copycat recipe, it can help cure the craving when I haven’t had my fix in quite some time.

Ingredients:

Dough:

1 cup warm water


2 teaspoons active dry yeast


1 teaspoon granulated sugar


1 tablespoon honey


2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


1 teaspoon salt


½ teaspoon garlic salt

Sauce:

6 oz. tomato paste


15 oz. tomato sauce


1 teaspoon oregano


2 tablespoon Italian seasoning


½ teaspoon onion powder


½ teaspoon garlic powder


½ teaspoon garlic salt


⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes


½ tablespoon brown sugar

Toppings:

Provolone cheese, finely shredded


Your choice of mushrooms, pepperoni, onions, etc.

Instructions

In a stand mixer, mix gently the warm water, yeast, honey, and sugar until about doubled in size.


With the stand mixer set to low, add in flour, olive oil, salt and garlic salt, scraping the sides of the bowl and letting the dough hook knead the dough for about five minutes.


Remove dough from the mixing bowl, place on a floured countertop and fold the dough over itself a few times until formed into a round ball.


Return the dough ball to a bowl and drizzle olive oil over top, cover it and let it rise in a warm area.


While the dough is rising, make the pizza sauce by combining all ingredients into a pot and simmering on medium for 15-20 minutes.


Preheat oven to 500 degrees.


Rub olive oil on the bottom and sides of a rectangular baking pan. Add dough to the center of he pan and spread it to the edges and corners.


Bake on bottom rack for about 10 minutes or until the dough just begins to lightly brown. Remove from heat.


Reduce temperature to 425 degrees. Spread a thin layer of sauce on top of the sauce. Bake for additional 5-10 minutes.


Remove the pizza and top with provolone cheese. Let it gently melt before adding your preferred toppings.


Enjoy.

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