I like to tell people to seek advice from those who know best. I try to learn about pizza cooking from people who make pizza for a living. A good pizza restaurant will do hundreds of pizzas a day! I love to learn as much about authentic pizza as I can. A trip to Italy is definitely in my future!
I went on a field trip recently to learn food operations from the guys at Local Pie Bluffton. Sonny was kind and patient enough to let me help with prep one afternoon. I found out later that his team usually does all of this without help - and much faster!
What we did.
We started with a tour of operations and introductions to the team. We then got an Introduction to restaurant hygiene and safe food practices. These are all great things to understand.
1) Slice mushrooms. Local Pie has an amazing mushroom pie that includes smoked mushrooms. We sliced an entire 24"X12" box of Baby Bellas and Large Shitake mushrooms that they source from a local farm. These are mixed together with some special ingredients and wood smoked for a few hours. It is amazing how a 5 gallon bucket of mushroom pieces shrinks when cooked.
2) Slice tomatoes for roasting. Again, a huge tray of tomatoes that were sourced from a farm about 30 minutes away were cut into wedges for roasting. These were seasoned and placed on a tray in the pizza oven where they were roasted for a very brief time.
3) Making Ricotta Cheese. I have attempted ricotta cheese at home in the past. I used a gallon of milk and cream and ended up with about a tiny 1/4 cup of ricotta. I learned to cook the milk until it "breaks". Then remove and stir before filtering the whey out of the curd. We created a tub of ricotta that was super smooth and creamy.
4) Making Mozzarella Cheese. A pizza restaurant uses fresh mozzarella on nearly every pizza. Cheese production is as urgent as dough. We made a batch of fresh mozzarella from a 44 lb cheese curd. The process is not difficult, but to do it right there are a number of variables. First, the curd is diced into chunks and put into warm water. Then, hotter and hotter water is added to cook the curd. In the hot water, the curd makes a miraculous transformation into a giant ball of taffy-like cheese. Pulling and stretching aligns the texture of the cheese and makes it into a homogeneous ball. Once the cheese is cooked and smooth and stretched we cooled it with salt water. Finally, after about 15 minutes the fun part - form it into balls and shape it into 2 lb. sausage shapes in plastic wrap.
5) Making dough. I have made my share of dough in the kitchen using various recipes. I even upgraded and got an 8qt Kitchen Aid mixer. Even with this mixer I am only able to make about 6 dough balls at a time. 24 pizzas takes four batches of dough. The restaurant is a little different. Their giant mixer makes 100 dough balls at a time! My prep for Eggtoberfest would have been very different with this mixer! Mind blown.
Local Pie uses a starter/Poolish added into the flour and water that supplies the active yeast. They also use some EVOO. I was not given the recipe, but did add the parts as directed. They do use 00 flour as they are cooking in an 800 degree oven. Sonny pointed out that cooking their dough in a home oven would not work that well, because the 00 flour does not brown at less than 700F degree. If you had pizza from the Local Pie booth at Eggtoberfest, you know that their dough cooked beautifully in the Pizza-Porta at 800F.
We put the ingredients in their mixer and bam! - 2-3 minutes later it was completely incorporated and smooth as silk. We dug out the dough and placed it on the counter. The staff saw this happen and all jumped in to help. They have a cool tradition to gather around and catch up with each other while forming dough balls.
Once the dough was formed, we had to end our tour. It was a great day of learning the details of a pizza restaurant. Did I mention that we made pizzas throughout all of this prep work? Patrons were in and out throughout this process and we stopped and made a pie or two and then jumped right back in. I am thankful for the team at Local Pie Bluffton for showing me how all of this worked. I am so impressed with the team there because I left in the afternoon while they cooked pizza unit 11:00 pm that night.
This trip reinforced that a great pizza starts with great ingredients. Everything we did was from scratch - no Cisco cans in this back room. Local Pie makes some fun pizza combinations based on what they can source fresh, locally. This daily routine is a lot of work, but the difference is obvious when you bite into a pizza. So, why am I writing this post? It was gratifying to see that I can reproduce the steps of a great restaurant at home and use the Pizza-Porta as a very close approximation of a real wood-fired oven.
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