If I had to guess I would say I have made between three hundred to four hundred pies and about twenty calzones in the Raquel Oven. The gaps or leaps left for me to close, off the top of my head, are as follows:
Supply chain optimization. Tampa being a pizza wasteland consistently challenges me in sourcing ultra-premium ingredients. In particular, cheese. I have struck agreements with wholesalers to source the three hard cheeses I prefer to use; Sini Fulvi Romano, Ricotta Salada, & Parmigiano-Reggiano. BTW, once I tried the real Parmigiano-Reggiano, I vowed never to go back to that acrid, powdery Parmesan, either – despite its $20/lb price.
However Bufala Mozzarella, with its pitiful shelf life, takes a real effort to properly source. I’ve given up and switched to Fior de Latte Mozzarella. Since I only make pizza a couple of times a month, I’m not sure I can ever overcome the freshness issue with distributors and Bufala.
I’ve toyed with making my own Fresh Mozzarella cheese from scratch but the taste has been suspect at best. The direction I am now headed in is to buy a good curd and make it fresh. That’s how my buddy Chris in Phoenix does it and his cheese was epic – in my humble opinion. The specific leap issue I have identified as being upgradeable is not related to the usual concern I typically read about – puddles, poor melting and burning. No I’ve fought those battles already and now my concern is the optimal mixing and matching of a lactic acid flavor profile to offset the acidic acid flavor of tomatoes. I remain convinced this is a treasure trove of contrasting opportunity just waiting to be uncovered.
It is why I exclusively use a lactic acid dominated natural leavening as well. I have a sense that the wafer thin crisp veneer of the Raquel crust can maximally combine with the creaminess of the right Fresh Mozzarella and contrast it against the acidic tomatoes to take melt-in-your-mouth flavor to new heights. I love contrasting flavors and I think this area justifies suitable exploration.
Another area worthy of investigation has to do with Caputo Rosso flour. I have a sense that it might, just might, be better suited for my style of artisan pizza making. I find Caputo Pizzeria flour produces too soft a crust for my guests and most importantly me. Americans innately want to pick up a slice and begin eating with their hands. Tough to do, in my experience, with a well made Caputo Pizzeria based crust over ten to twelve inches in diameter. The toppings just seem to fall off the slice tip and make a mess of it.
Frankly, I fail to understand why Caputo Pizzeria flour is so revered by so many. While I appreciate its flavor and high quality specifications, it is just not the right flour for my application. I tend to pile on the topping and need a level of rigidity that Pizzeria has issues with. I have found that a suitable work-around for my taste buds is to blend it 50/50 with KA Special or 66/34 with KASL. I’m hoping that the Rosso will negate the requirement of blending that its softer brother does. We’ll see.
Perhaps the granddaddy of all leaps is technique. It needs to be discussed in relation to proper process and procedure. I still have a lot to learn to match my process and procedure to my style of pizza. Problem is, there is no roadmap because I’m not emulating any known style of pizza. Though if I had pay homage to the real masters, I believe the Neapolitans have no peer and have mastered a very demanding style of pizza crust.
Their process and procedure is unbelievably complex yet elegant when properly executed. And it requires a certain set of tools in combination with the right process, procedure, and discipline to produce genuine pizza Napoletana. I have begun to understand the pain Marco carries within him on this topic because nearly everyone who claims to make pizza Napoletana doesn’t. It is sinful to be honest. I just shake my head at those that claim to make the real thing. Both famous and not. Nothing in the realm of pizza could be further from the truth. Even those that claim to make Napoletana style make me laugh with wonderment as to exactly where they believe they veered from being truly authentic. Marco should be revered for his undying efforts at enlightening the masses on pizza Napoletana.
I sometimes wish I didn’t mind authentic pizza Napoletana’s lusciously soft crusts, mini-me diameter skins, and somewhat soupy middles which necessitate the use of a knife and a fork. But the fact is I do. I rail against those aspects of pizza Napoletana instead of embracing them. I cannot help but view them through the optics of being defective. I truly wonder if harder strains of wheat were available to Neapolitans through the years if they wouldn’t prefer to pick up a slice and eat it with their hands. The sensory impact would be huge as a result and most assuredly is the definitive way to eat pie in my opinion.
If it sounds like I’m tortured on this point, I guess I really am because I just wish I liked it more than I do. It would make my journey easier to complete. I could just catch a flight to Naples and train under any number of masters and be done with it.
But pizza making has never been easy for me because I just cannot stomach defects so obvious on any level. I pay ridiculous attention to every detail big and small when it comes to Pizza Raquel and I want it to be perfect not compromised in any way.
I can’t emulate the elite New Yorkers either because they absolutely have no aspect of their pizza making which, in my opinion, is worth emulating. The questionable use of bromated flour and coal ovens might produce glorious taste at the expense of one’s health. The outright use of inferior ingredient quality is reason enough to look in another direction.
But which one? Chicago is out of the question because I can’t relate to pizza as a casserole on any level. California can’t distinguish between bread technique and pizza. Their crust is the absolute worst of the lot but toppings wise I can appreciate their reach. But since crust is the show, I can’t get my arms around it either.
So I’m resolved to go it alone and wander in the wilderness to find my own way. Selectively borrowing a little here and there from known styles while inventing new technique and applying my collective knowledge as I go to forge a new end-in-mind. Problem is I don’t know what I don’t know. So I just keep on grinding away at a goal which may not exist for all I know. Or I might not know when I get there.
But I have reason to hope. Pizza Raquel is stupendous now and I have no reason to believe she can’t be improved in some way.