You can put anything on a pizza, such is its versatility. One joker reported on an internet forum a couple of years ago that he had made his own creation with haggis, red pepper, red onion and feta a combination perhaps best avoided by retail bakers unless for a PR stunt.
Opting for popular toppings is the best policy, says Jim Winship, director of the Pizza, Pasta and Italian Food Association. And the most popular is cheese and tomato. Winship suggests you cannot go far wrong if you look at what the pizza delivery chains have on their menus, but do not ignore the specials.
Also, consider local preferences: stronger-flavoured toppings like chillies, for example, could go down a storm in areas of high ethnicity. But choosing the cheapest ingredients in the belief that they will maximise profits could prove an error of judgment.
"Some cheaper ingredients have higher water and higher fat content and can burn more, especially some cheeses, such as cheddar. We advocate that, for the marginal difference in cost, you are better off going for better quality, so you have a product that looks good and tastes good," Winship says.
Fresh ingredients can result in a lot of wastage if you’ve not correctly anticipated sales volume, so buying frozen toppings can be a better option.
Winship says: "If you have a Welsh rarebit you don’t mind burning on top, but with pizza, people do not expect that and it must also have the stretchiness that you only get with mozzarella." He says mozzarella/cheddar mixes can be used, but it comes down to what local consumers like.
Richard Jansen, MD of manufacturer La Pizza Company, believes a mozzarella/cheddar mix in the ratio of 70:30 or 80:20 works best. "You get this lovely stretched cheese, but with a bit more flavour. Mozzarella on its own doesn’t have a lot of taste."
Tony Kourellias, sales and development director (pizza) for Dairygold, supplier of Pizzamelt, a topping of premium mozzarella and natural cheddar cheese, has identified Mexican-style pizzas as a key trend this year. He agrees with Winship that the quality of the cheese is "vitally important" and says one advantage of Pizzamelt is that less of it is needed, reducing the required amount by 33% compared with standard grated products. "This saving reduces the cost of pizza-making, which is good news for businesses looking to cut costs at source while maintaining product quality."
Chris Brown, director and co-owner of Turpin Smale Foodservice Consulting, who used to run a Pizza Express, says a baker should not have too many variations, otherwise they will not get the stock turnover. "The big difference is that, in a restaurant, you are selling it from the menu. In the high street you are buying with your eyes, so the toppings have to be visually attractive. You would use the colours, the different ingredients, texture and overall appeal."
Those who want to chance being more adventurous could experiment using chicken, which Ian Bayley, operations director of Express Supplies, says is highly adaptable with different flavours. "Chicken has become very popular, and fresh toppings such as asparagus and spinach, are seen as healthy options."
He advises to keep it simple and sell the favourites. "When it comes to fresh toppings you cannot beat going to the greengrocer. Using canned is different. Canned mushrooms will never taste as good as fresh."
Most wholesalers, however, will only cater for pre-made toppings. Bayley says it is about convenience and many wholesalers will supply a 1kg bag or tray of individually quick frozen toppings. Bayley adds that, to achieve eye-appeal, green peppers, mushroom and red peppers bring colour and balance. "It’s trial and error. There is no point piling on too much topping because it won’t cook evenly. It has to look as though it has been carefully put together."