“You’ll understand as soon as you have a slice,” explained a teenager. He and a friend were sitting on stools at the window of Little Vincent’s, a popular, no-frills pizzeria on Route 110 just south of 25A in Huntington, Long Island. They were both about to eat slices topped with at least a full cup of cold shredded mozzarella.
Not extra cheese, extra cold cheese.
“Cold cheese?” you’re asking. “On hot pizza?”
“It’s the #$&*ing best, especially when you’re drunk,” the teen added, creasing his slice to avoid losing shreds of cold cheese.
But the teenagers eating the Cold Cheese Slices (as they’re called) weren’t drunk. Neither were the slender college-aged girls, or the non-English speaking Japanese tourists eating Cold Cheese Slices. People just like their pizza this way.
You 're already calculating culinary equations: Hot Slice + Cold Cheese = X. In this case, X isn’t a constant. Cold cheese allows for added effects and benefits.
First, more is better. Second, oil usually removed by holding your slice tip-down, disappears— absorbed by cold cheese. Third, the introduction of cold cheese to the residual heat of a piping hot slice creates taste and texture nuances not usually experienced. There isn’t enough heat in even the freshest slice to melt all the extra cheese. But it does introduce three cheese stages to the eating experience: melted, beginning to melt, and cold cheese.
It doesn't take much to become a convert. Little Vincent’s bottom crust is thin and slightly textured by cornmeal. The edge crust has a good proportion of crispiness to doughiness. And their sauce is superb. Not only is it well seasoned, but there’s enough on a regular slice that extra cheese still allows for a good sauce to cheese ratio.
But the most important effect is perhaps that oven-fresh, steaming slices can go: oven, peel, pan, plate, mouth in seconds. The cold cheese prevents the burning of the roof of the mouth. Genius.
“It happened back in ’86 or ’87,” said Little Vincent’s manager, Daniel Rossi. “Some college kids started to ask for it and then it exploded from there.”
Ever since, on any Friday or Saturday night after midnight, Little Vincent’s has sold a lot of Cold Cheese slices, “More than I can count, I think,” said Mr. Rossi, chuckling.
The cold shredded cheese used to top the slice is the same cheese used in its construction. The added cost is the same as Little Vincent’s other pizza toppings, $1.50 more (25¢ more than their $1.25 plain slice). But at $2.75, the Cold Cheese Slice costs about the same as most slices in New York City.
“Personally it’s not even my favorite,” said Mr. Rossi. “I don’t know. It’s a different texture, a different feel. You get the warm and cold at the same time. The pizza isn’t even supposed to be too hot. If it’s too hot it’s melting the cheese and then you lose the texture. It’s a love it or hate it thing. It’s not the kind of thing you have once in a while.”
It is a practice brought to Huntington by college students returning home to Long Island from school in Oneonta in upstate New York. There the students were introduced to the Cold Cheese Slice at a pizzeria called Tino’s opened by Agatino Garufi in 1985. Mr. Garufi’s son, Tino Jr., said the Cold Cheese started the year they opened.
“You know how you get a slice of pizza that comes out of the oven,” said Tino Jr., “this guy came up to the counter and asked for a slice. But it was too hot so he said can you put some cold mozzarella cheese on top so he could eat it right away.”
Thinking it a little strange, Tino Sr. shrugged his shoulders and acquiesced, tossing a handful of cold cheese on top of a slice.
At first it was free. But the pizzeria was the post-bar destination for students from SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College. As the students popularized the slice, Tino Jr. explained they had to start charging extra.
“My big thing was, what’s the big thing about it. But you’ve got to remember, it’s 2am, there’s a line out the door of drunk kids…you’re drunk and you can’t bite into a hot slice of pizza so…” so cold cheese on top just made sense.
Tino Jr. (his personal email address includes the letters, ‘cc’ for cold cheese) said that between midnight and 3am on a Friday or Saturday night, 95% of the slices sold were Cold Cheese. Tino Jr. sold his family’s Oneonta pizzeria in 2002 and opened a new Tino’s in Cooperstown. The original store in Oneonta, renamed Cosmo’s, is said to have continued the Cold Cheese tradition. But it’s the Cooperstown Tino’s whose window sign proclaims: “Home of the Cold Cheese.”
Tino recalls selling about 800 Cold Cheese slices on an average Friday night in Oneonta. He currently charges $1 for the extra cheese; the Cold Cheese Slice costs $3.25. He also sells a Cold Cheese Pie ($19.75), which when you take to go is accompanied by a container holding well over a pound of extra cold shredded cheese.
But before you go running to just any pizza parlor to ask for a Cold Cheese Slice, drunk or sober, you may want to reconsider. The Cold Cheese Slice works best when the slice being used for the base is already excellent. For your first time, go to your favorite pizza place and ask for extra cold cheese. And don’t be shy—make sure they don’t skimp.