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There are two things we don't argue with people about: barbecue and pizza.
Thus we don't enter seriously into the mouth-foaming arguments over Provel. Part of that may be that we are not St. Louis natives, Joe being a Brooklyn kid and Ann growing up down the road in Desloge. We enjoy many different kinds of pizza: thin crust, thick crust, tomato sauce, no tomato sauce, and we can't list how many different kinds of cheeses and toppings we've downed. We find proof in the fact that our now-grown kids will succumb to... No, they insist on St. Louis-style pizza when they visit. A grandchild from our Virginia bureau would happily eat Imo's every night she's in town. (We're sending her some for her birthday this weekend.)
The pleasure in Provel is its creamy mouth feel. But we also think that a key reason for its popularity is that it's a tidy cheese. On the whole, we St. Louisans don't like messiness. Architects of our office buildings adjust the sprays on outdoor fountains so they don't blow onto the sidewalk on windy days and possibly sprinkle someone's clothing. Those long strings of melted mozzarella stretching out from pizza to mouth may look charming, but they're messy. And the greater density of mozzarella means more chance of burning the roof of the mouth.
What both amuses and bothers us is how narrow-minded eaters are about pizza. Provel is just part of the problem. Perhaps it's just lack of exposure. The Neapolitan-style pizza of, say, The Good Pie, leaves many diners dumbfounded. It's just a different kind of pizza. Not all barbecue is dry-rub pork, not all pizza is thin-crust, oregano-laced, mozzarella-wearing pie. While this is all a matter of taste, an enthusiastic diner should be willing to be open-minded, to try just about anything. Sure, Mom's apple pie was great, but does that mean another apple pastry is necessarily ___________. Pick your own adjective: awful, not apple pie, disgusting, a waste of money—we've heard/read all that and lots more.
So Provel isn't “real” cheese. Lots of things we eat every day are mixtures of ingredients, perhaps even with preservatives in them. That's not much of an argument unless your lifestyle avoids those things as much as possible. We'll keep eating Provel and as many other different things as we can.
by Joe and Ann Pollack