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NYTimes.com: The Cult of the Artisanal Pizza

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hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

NYTimes.com: The Cult of the Artisanal Pizza

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/08/dining/08pizza.html?_r=2&ref=dining


I do enjoy pizza from time to time, but I'm baffled over how far some are willing to take the concept in the search of the "genuine" pizza... How can a $34 pie be representative of a meal that originally was prepared to put a hodge-podge of leftovers to good use?

SteveB's picture
SteveB

Hans, a $34 pizza is chump change to people like those willing to order a food adorned with edible gold leaf, just so that they can say that they've eaten "the world's most expensive... (fill in the blank)".


SteveB


http://www.breadcetera.com


 

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Certainly, Steve.


They can call it artisan or whatever they like, but I still refuse to believe that anyone can charge $34 for a disc-shaped dough that's topped with tomatoes, mozarella, basil and extra-virgin olive oil.


Reminds me of a story I read in the Telegraph just before christmas: Roquefort and almond sourdough. £15 loaves on sale at Harrods.


 

DerekL's picture
DerekL

At Manhattan prices, it's pretty hard to sell for much less.

rainwater's picture
rainwater

Wait a minute!  The original pizza was not originally prepared to put a hodge podge of leftovers on....it may have evolved to this...but this is not the pizzas origin.  It was prepared by a Chef to offer to a Princess Margharita as a snack food, and has the three colors of the Italian flag....red, white, and green, which is the Pizza Margharita with tomato (sauce), mozzarella cheese, and basil.  In Napoli, the Pizzaolas have good jobs, and are paid fairly well....there are Napoli government standards for pizza crust! 


Myself....I eat pizza only for the two days that I have off every week.  My crust is simply divine, which I owe to information I've gathered from good books recommended by this site, and information gathered from this site.  I'm so spoiled by my own pizza that I can hardly even look at a commercial pizza as food for consumption....I've used flour milled in Napoli Italy, and the flavor and aroma is noticeably better, but I like the texture of my crust better with the King Arthur Unbleached flour better, and the cost of KA is not prohibitive. 


My quest though has not been to create "authentic" pizza.  My quest has been to create my perfect pizza....for me!  :)  When I prepare my pizza, I prepare it with the visualization that I'm preparing this for a princess....only the best ingredients.  The best organic crushed tomatoes for my sauce, fresh mozarella, fresh basil pesto, virgin olive oil....and when available...marinated heirloom tomatoes.  Any topping less delicate than this seems to take away from the balance and the enjoyment of the crust.......


Sensibly....this is very inexpensive for two days worth of food.....and it's my perfect meal. 


As for me.....$34.00 will provide me with pizza for several weekends.....why pay someone to charge me more for less? 


As for the $34.00 pizza.....well.....I've been in the food service business.  ...and if the establishment uses the finest ingredients.....and they are located in a high rent district....and pay employees decently....then they may need to charge what may seem exhorbitant to us who can prepare at home.  The most authentic pizza in Houston, which is in a high rent district, very fine Italian resteraunt, first wood fired oven in Houston (about 25 years established), the only place I'll eat pizza...is about $12.00....and this establishment makes their own mozarella fresh in house.  They must pay and treat their empolyess  well because I've seen the same cooks for the last twenty years...and the same  guy has been making their pizza for twenty years.....quite remarkable in the food service industry.

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Hmm... I think that's the story behind the particular pizza called Margherita. Pizzas go back longer than that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_pizza.

janij's picture
janij

Where is this pizza place in Houston?  I must check them out!!  Sincerely from Spring, TX

rainwater's picture
rainwater

I'm not so sure of the fascination of the charred crusts that come from these wood and coal fired ovens.  I like the even toasted crust I make at home on a pizza stone, and my favorite wood fired pizza in Houston never has blackened charred crust....actually rather evenly toasted with minimal charring....wonder how he does it?

DerekL's picture
DerekL

It's the latest excuse to be snooty and exclusive.  This fad too will pass.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Pizza is the ultimate comfort food to many.


When Peter Reinhart was in SF in March, he made a point of telling us that artisanal pizza 'parlors' were going to be the next big thing, citing various cities, e.g., Portland, SF, and some of their latest pizzerias.


Peter also said something like, "What's not to like about warm bread and cheese." And commented that there was no such thing as a "bad pizza" except perhaps a burnt one.


I wouldn't pay $34 for a pizza, but then I always prefer to make my own and eat it hot in the confines of my own home along with as much wine as I care to drink. But $34 is cheap for a nice meal out these days. And if you think you are getting a gourmet meal for $34 dollars and at the same time being frugal (cutting back) because of the US recession, then it is just the perfect win-win situation for many people. And, you can dine in your jeans.


It amazes me that I almost never get tired of plain old pizza margarita! I probably make it about once a week and am always trying new crusts, different mozzarellas and pizza sauces (different brands of tomatoes), and striving to produce a better product. Some weeks I hit it just right and others only so so, but my appetite for this creation never lingers.


--Pamela

Steve H's picture
Steve H

Not that I deny that there are folks who will pay extra just for snootyness privelages, I'd like to raise a minority opinion that if a person is here in the U.S.A. (or anywhere) and trying to reproduce food native to a different region (e.g., Italy), one can spend quite a bit of money to source the ingredients to make it authentic to what might be typically daily food over there, especially if food costs are already rather high.


I ran into this once trying to make Limoncello.  There was a difference between most lemons found in the U.S. and ones typically found in Italy.  The Italian ones had a thicker, more flavorful rind.  The end product came out OK, but it was definitely different.


My only point is just because its typical food to a particular region does not mean that reproducing it somewhere else is necessarily cheap.  Maybe you want lower-gluten italian flour, imported cheese, italian tomatoes, brick oven... Not to mention the high rents one has to pay in a place like Mahhattan, subsidized in the food.  I paid quite a bit (not $35--more like $22 if I recall correctly) in Georgetown (high rent area in DC) for a pizza featuring buffalo mozarella imported from Italy, and it was good enough that as a special and occassional treat, I'd probably go back and do it again.  It also convinced me enough to pay out the nose for a $10 bag of fresh mozarella to top some home made pizza.


I hope I don't come off as snobby, its not my intent.  But living in DC, where the price of groceries and food can both be pretty expensive--if you want fresh ingredients not on the verge of going bad when you buy them--it is not hard to put together an ingredient list for something that is not very cheap at all, even for home baking.  Then if you want to source an authentic ingredient like cheese it just adds on top of that.


The spelt sourdough recipe I make (got it from breadtopia) is a great example of this, where I estimate making this bread costs about $3-$4 per loaf (to my chagrin).


At any rate, $35 barely scrapes the surface of any kind of restaurant insanity.  Here in DC there is a restaurant that, without wine pairing, costs $190/person for their signature dinner.  The closest I get to going there is reading the menu for ideas.  :)

rainwater's picture
rainwater

Okay...pizza has some history before Princess Margharita.....BUT!  This was the first pizza with CHEESE! ! !    ...and as we all know....it wasn't really pizza until the cheese....before this it was bread dough with peasant toppings. 

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

The article highlights the recent trend towards pizza 'authenticity' via Naples. This has essentially become the face of 'artisanal' pizza in the last few years. Everyone wants to be seen using 'authentic ingredients' sourced from Italy, 00 flour, san marzano (DOP) tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, even sourdough starters of traditional neapolitan provenance. Then, of course, there are the prohibitively expensive wood-fired ovens (a true, crafted-in-naples WFO will set the prospective pizzeria back easily $15,000!) 


Somewhere in this pizza fervour, it seems to have been forgotten that the ingredients and equipment used in the 'authentic product' were (still are) specific to the area in which neapolitan pizza was created. For pizzerias in Naples, the DOC Pizza Margherita uses LOCAL ingredients. A pizza there will set you back all of about 5 euros!


In comparison, creating a facsimile pizza in the US requires a serious amount of overhead in addition to expensive imported ingredients. Hell, some pizzerias even 'import' a genuine italian pizzaiolo to make the pizzas! The carbon footprint (I'm not talking about the char!) on a DOC pizza in, say, New York is ridiculous! There is a danger, when extending and promoting beyond the borders of Italy, for organisations such as VPN to turn pizza napoletana into something akin to a franchise. They risk becoming unwitting salesmen for a handful of italian manufacturers (of pizza ovens, flour etc.) pushing the 'neapolitan brand' rather than pizza excellence.


In sharp contrast, recent years have witnessed the rise of the locavore. I would really like to see new 'artisan pizzerias' pay more attention to this movement. Using local ingredients means fresher, tastier food with less reliance on long-distance trade (witness last year's buffalo mozzarella health scare). There are more chances to provide the customer with assurances of ethical and environmentally friendly production/farming methods for their food. By learning how to maximise flavour from what is locally available and developing relationships with regional suppliers, we create a healthy food infrastructure that benefits consumer, producer and local economy. Moreover, it reflects the same spirit that gave birth to the legendary Pizza Napoletana in the first place. How's that for authenticity?


Who knows, in years to come, they may be writing articles about 'Verace Pizza New York' or 'Verace Pizza San Francisco'! 


FP


 

femlow's picture
femlow

I worked in a restaraunt in New Hampshire that sold only pizza, salad and a couple deserts (and all the alcohol you could ever hope for). For a pizza to feed two not-very-hungry people, you could expect to pay around $25 (pizza for one was ~$17). The cost was to some extent food cost (~85% organic, a lot of locally grown/produced ingredients, very high quality standards) but much more than that, the people payed for the atmosphere. The ironic part is that the people were paying for a casual, earthy, wear your authentic birkies atmosphere, and as staff we were well payed to maintain that. It's like spending $100 on a pre-torn pair of jeans. (They did have some great pizza though...)

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

People like me who have made a living from people's interest in good food must be careful with our criticism.  Still, I must say that, even in the artisanal bread business, there are bakery operators who perhaps put too much emphasis on trendiness or "correctness" and not enough on basics.


We (society, that is) stylize food, we politicize it, and we worship it at times.  As much as it makes me happy that people have raised their expectations about what makes for a good loaf or a great pizza, I am apprehensive that most access to these foods will be limited to folks who read the wine spectator and have six figure incomes.

AlanTheBreadGuy's picture
AlanTheBreadGuy

Hans asks, "How can a $34 pie be representative of a meal that originally was prepared to put a hodge-podge of leftovers to good use?"


The simple answer is that it is not representative - it's just capitalism at work.  Or rather, "they do it because they can, because people will pay for it."  When those people won't want to pay for it any longer, the business will either have to adapt or it will die.  

Nomadcruiser53's picture
Nomadcruiser53

I figure any pizza I make is worth way more than $34 just for the effort and love I put into it. Too bad family and friends eat them for free and I have to be happy with table chat and the odd "this is great" nod. Dave

veggie's picture
veggie

All  this pizza talk has made me hungry. I do have some homemade dough in the fridge that has been resting a few days. Hmmmm.......have to wait till tomorrow. Kind of late to fire up the stone now.


Homemade pizza is always much better that any other pizza out there. At least that is my opinion.

rainwater's picture
rainwater

pizza obviously deserves it's place among the elite culinary creations....the amount of response in this thread is the indication that pizza spawns more obsessiveness than just about any other culinary tradition.....You can get pizza just about anywhere in the world....I even had it in India! 


....but I don't think pizza should be too expensive either. 


Also.....this trend for wood burning ovens......hello!  A lot of trees have to give their lives for this tradition.  This big fuss over wood stoves.  My pizza comes great from the oven...with lots of flavor from 24/48 hour fermentation. 


In India I've heard it said that first class cooking heat source is:


cow manure.


Second class cooking heat is wood.


Third class cooking heat is gas.


Just think how many trees and gas reserves could be saved if we used first class cooking fuel! ! ! 


Okay.....your overly civilized mind is thinking how could cow manure be used for cooking fuel, but by the time the manure is dried enough to use for fuel it is quite antiseptic.

asicign's picture
asicign

I'm in the Houston area also, and would like to know the pizzeria referenced above.  I'm making pizza tonight.  I finally broke down and ordered some Sir Lancelot flour from KA.  If it works out, I'm going to have to find a way to bulk order the flour, because buying in 3 lb bags + shipping is not an option.

xaipete's picture
xaipete
Steve H's picture
Steve H

Will those places actually sell to individuals?

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Perhaps if you buy in the right quantity, e.g., 25 or 50 pounds. It doesn't hurt to give some of them a call.

--Pamela

asicign's picture
asicign

Pamela,


 


I visited the KA distributor listed for Houston last month.  They said that they don't carry Sir Lancelot.  KA packages it in 50 lb bags for distributors, and the 3lb bags on the website.  I need an alternative, but don't know what that might be right now.  I wasn't crazy about getting a 50 lb bag.. that's a lot of pizza and bagels.  However, my pizza last night was exquisite!


 


Andy

xaipete's picture
xaipete

But would the distributor sell you 50 pound bags of what they stocked?


Many of us here on TFL wish KA would sell some of their flours in larger quantities. Perhaps we should start lobbying them with requests?


--Pamela

frenchfrog69's picture
frenchfrog69

Would you mind sharing your pizza dough recipe?  I am new to this site and fairly new to bread making.  One reason of my interest for bread making is pizza dough and I haven't found any good recipe yet but I haven't search for it on this site yet.  :)


PS:  That's ok if you don't want to share your secret!


Thanks!