Ohio Valley Pizza Embraces Cold Shredded Cheese

When your friends say they want to grab a slice of pizza, the first thing you probably imagine is a crispy crust topped with piping hot tomato sauce and gooey, stringy cheese. But if your friends happen to be natives of the Ohio Valley, their version of pizza could be very different from the mental image you're drooling over.

The Ohio Valley region spans multiple states, including Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, and it's here you'll find what's known as Ohio Valley pizza. This unique variation is nothing like your typical late-night slice because it's square-shaped and is actually topped with cold cheese and cold toppings — and no, it's not the same as the left-over pizza that you pulled out of your fridge. The thick crust and sauce base of Ohio Valley pizza are cooked piping hot in an oven, but most of the cheese and any extras that go on top are added after the crust is fully cooked (and while they're still chilly).

Why would anyone ever do this to pizza?

This quirky pizza began in the early 1900s in Appalachia — specifically in Steubenville, Ohio. The DiCarlo family owned an Italian bakery and grocery store in the city. When Primo DiCarlo returned from World War II with stories about Italian pizza, the DiCarlos expanded their business to open the first DiCarlo's Pizza Shop in 1945. Their crust — made similarly to their bread recipe — is cooked in an oven after being topped with tomato sauce. After the dough rises, more sauce and a little bit of cheese are added until the crust is "golden-brown." The final touches are still-cold grated provolone and toppings. Et voila! You have Ohio Valley pizza. 

Primo's niece and DiCarlo's current owner, Anna DiCarlo, told PMQ that she doesn't know how the tradition began. She suspects that it could have something to do with extra-thick baking pans and the high potential for burning cheese if it were to be prematurely added. While the bulk of the cheese and toppings are added still-chilled, if the pizza goes into a box, the hot air circulating will likely start the melting process.

Tino's, a pizza shop in Oneonta, also claims to have created the Ohio Valley variety; although, their slices appear to be more traditionally triangular, and their business started much later than DiCarlo's. Their reasoning for cold shredded cheese is that customers can eat quicker — if the cheese isn't hot, there's no risk of burning your tongue.

Believe it or not, people really do love their cold toppings

DiCarlo's now has nine locations across Ohio, and in West Virginia and Tennessee, and their loyal fans truly love and embrace all of their favorite pizza's quirks. Some say that New York style pizza is the best, but DiCarlo's has plenty of five-star ratings on Yelp, with its reviewers leaving passionate comments about why they love it so much. One person wrote that "it is by DiCarlo's pizza that [all] other pizza [be] judged," and many talked about the cold cheese and pepperoni combination, making it stand out as the purported fan-favorite.

At Pizza House, an Ohio Valley pizza joint in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, the toppings can also be served sans heat — but you actually have to ask for it. Here, the basic pizza dough is topped with sauce and then cooked with cheese on it — unless you specify that you want it to be added, still cold, at the end. After being cooked, the pizza is cut into squares, and you can pick and choose which toppings you'd like to be added to your slice — kind of like when you order frozen yogurt or a burrito at Chipotle. Pizza House also has phenomenal reviews on Yelp, so while you might think it's a little weird, Ohio Valley pizza doesn't seem to be going anywhere any time soon if its supporters have anything to say about it.