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Ever Wondered How the Cheese Pull is Done?

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In advertising, "cheese pulls"—as a recent Quartz article explains—are the old but incredibly effective visual advertising tropes, named for when a slice of pizza is pulled from a full pie, its cheesy umbilical cords hanging on for dear life.

You've seen these images over and over again, and yet they go straight for the jugular every time, making it practically impossible to resist a craving for a Coke beaded with condensation, a burger sizzling audibly on the grill, a river of velvet chocolate enrobing a cube of caramel, or—an unlisted favorite that I love—a piece of bread being spread with peanut butter over a layer of peanuts (what's going on there, anyway?).

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Irene's Middle Eastern Knafeh with Orange Blossom Syrup
Irene's Middle Eastern Knafeh with Orange Blossom Syrup

Our version of a cheese pull. Absolutely no toothpicks or paintbrushes involved.


But the article didn't reveal how a cheese pull—the original kind—is done (though Quartz did report that for one Domino's shoot, it involved "20 lights; 50 C-stands; 150 people including pizza chefs and hand models trained to pull the slice with precision; food stylists who primped the pizza with Q-tips, tweezers, torches, and spatulas; and an alarming amount of drilling").

We turned to a 1992 book on food styling, John F. Carafoli's Food Photography and Styling, for a tutorial.

What secrets does this book keep!?
What secrets does this book keep!?

For the pull shot, Carafoli recommends cutting a wedge in the raw pizza dough and leaving it in place—it makes it easier to separate the slice with a spatula later without using a knife to sever the cheese strands.

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Then, arrange strips of cheese "perpendicular to the cuts in the dough so that the resulting pull would drip with a thick waterfall of cheese when it [is] lifted from the baked pie." We repeat: a thick waterfall of cheese.

Cute a wedge in the raw dough; place cheese strips perpendicular to the cut.
Cute a wedge in the raw dough; place cheese strips perpendicular to the cut.

Cover the wedge and the pie lightly with sauce and with additional cheese, then bake. Carafoli says that the "secret to a good pull is not to do it immediately after the pizza leaves the oven—let the pizza cool slightly. Otherwise, the cheese has a tendency to be too thin and run off the spatula." Essentially: a little bit of congealment is a good thing!

Prop up the spatula with a couple of cups, so that it can stand on its own, then apply a "few last-minute touchups with olive oil [...to] put a little sheen on the pepperoni for the camera."

Those cheese strands are other-worldly!
Those cheese strands are other-worldly!

And that's how a cheese pull is done! (Other tips, not exactly pull-related: Add sliced pepperoni after the pizza comes out of the oven—it will buckle otherwise; and sauté mushrooms separately, then arrange them on top of the pizza "with tweezers at the last minute.")

If you haven't had enough food manipulation for one day, watch what it takes to photograph a pizza pull here. There's a lot of of toothpick action, some brushwork, and a few good quotes: "I'm trying to determine whether they're looking too spotty: Do they still look too placed in?"

Strangely, even when I know how contrived those cheesy threads are, they still make me kind of hungry. Cheese pull, you've done it again!

Tags: cheese, food styling