I've had quite a day today, one of the more interesting and satisfying in a long while. What started it all off was an effort to try to answer some of Giotto's questions about the Giusto flour and Chris Bianco's use of flours for his Neapolitan style pizzas that Peter Reinhart has spoken so highly of in his book "American Pie".
My journey began early this morning by calling the local Whole Foods store in Dallas to find out who supplies their bulk flours and, in particular, whether Giusto's was one of the suppliers, as it is for the Whole Foods store that Giotto frequents. In speaking with the "flour" department, I was told Giusto's is not a supplier to the Dallas Whole Foods. Their suppliers are organic suppliers, namely, Arrowhead and Rocky Mountain. Arrowhead is also the supplier of the vital wheat gluten.
I then decided to call Giusto's directly to see if I could find out which Giusto flour Chris Bianco uses. I spoke to two people at Giusto's, both of whom were very nice, but neither could answer the question. I was informed that Bianco orders from a distributor in the Phoenix area and, consequently, they had no direct knowledge of the particular flour used in his pizzeria. I was told that the closest flour Giusto's has for something like a Neapolitan pizza dough is their basic all-purpose flour.
Not to be deterred, I headed for Google to do some searching on Chris Bianco and his pizzeria. I found reference to an article that had been written in the October 1999 issue of Gourmet magazine that purpordedly included a Chris Bianco pizza dough recipe using all-purpose flour. I tried my best but couldn't come up with the recipe. I even emailed a friend of mine who subscribes to Gourmet magazine and asked if she saved old issues (she didn't). However--of greater value as it turns out-- I found a forum website in which Peter Reinhart had participated, and stumbled upon an email address that I believe is his wife's, Susan. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I composed and sent an email to Peter Reinhart using the address I found, not knowing whether it was still a valid address. I mentioned in the email that I was surprised to see that his recipe for Neapolitan pizza dough uses all-purpose flour and not 00 flour or "equivalents" to 00 flour (like combinations of bread or all-purpose and cake or pastry flour), and that I was trying to find out which Giusto flour Chris Bianco was using in his pizzeria for his Neapolitan style doughs so that I could use it myself in Peter's Neapolitan pizza dough recipe. I perhaps had a thousand other questions I would have liked to haved asked, but I figured I shouldn't press my luck and limit the email to the question at hand.
Since I still didn't have an answer to the nagging Giusto flour question, I decided to take a chance and call Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. I knew that the pizzeria opens later in the day, but I surmised that someone was likely to be around getting ready for the evening's business. As it turned out, Chris Bianco was out, but I got his brother Marco. We chatted a bit about the pizzeria and Peter Reinhart's glowing reviews but gradually the conversation turned to the pizza dough operation when I mentioned that I was a home pizza maker who was passionate about pizza making but who suffers like most home pizza makers in achieving pizza nirvana.
I guess that was all he needed to get going and he proceeded to speak at great length about the pizzeria and his brother's and his devotion to pizza making. As we spoke, I made sure to ask him which Giusto flour his brother Chris was using, since that was the question I was still trying to get answered (like a dog biting your pants and refusing to let go). He was somewhat guarded about the question (he says they get a call like mine at least once a day and that Chris was unlikely to answer that question either), but he did say that Chris actually uses a mixture of several flours, not from a single source but from three or more, apparently including Giusto's among them, with the goal of achieving a targeted protein level (which is regularly measured). He added that they are constantly testing and tweaking flours and dealing with problems like humidity and heat, the variations of summer and winter temperatures, and admitted that they have bad days where everything goes wrong (but the pizzas are great) and days where everything goes right (but the pizzas aren't) even when they are doing their best to achieve consistency in whatever they do (a frustrating and almost unattainable objective, he confessed). His comments prompted me to ask him about dough temperatures and he answered that they were very careful about dough temperatures, using water temperature to control dough temperature (based on flour and room temperature, and frictional temperature, which he admitted would be small for hand mixing--basically the temperature of the hands mixing and kneading the dough). He added that he felt even home pizza makers should use dough temperature control. He also applauded the use of the "windowpane" test as a way of determining when a dough has been sufficiently kneaded. As best I can tell, the doughs are not normally subjected to refrigeration but rather are started in the morning and left to rise during the day (and punched down several times). He added that they do use a piece of old dough, which I think is called a "chef" or "levain" by bread makers (which is Marco's role in the pizzeria), but I couldn't tell whether that was a standard practice or an occasional departure from the standard practice.
As for some of the other ingredients used by the pizzeria, they use a fresh yeast, hand-made cow's milk mozzarella cheese, fresh herbs and as many fresh and organic ingredients as possible. Marco added that they don't use buffalo mozzarella cheese on pizzas because it doesn't bake well under high oven temperatures (because of high fat levels), it's watery and, that even in Italy, which he visits frequently, cow's milk mozzarella cheese is used much more than buffalo mozzarella cheese on pizzas and that the buffalo mozzarella cheese is used more as a delicacy and for other dishes. Marco said that their cow's milk mozzarella cheese was very creamy, however.
I would estimate that Marco and I spoke for close to an hour. He was very gracious with his time and knowledge and invited me to come to the pizzeria sometime (which I plan to do since my son and his family live in nearby Scottsdale) and to look him up when I do.
Shortly after I hung up with Marco Bianco, to my surprise I received a reply from Peter Reinhart to my email. He thanked me for my note and proceeded to say that Chris Bianco uses a bread flour, not all-purpose, and that, he (Peter) too has found that he likes bread flour better than all-purpose and Italian 00, especially when he hydrates it fully. He added that he thinks it's a more toothsome and flavorful flour, and pointed out that the King Arthur All Purpose, which is a little higher in protein than other brands, also has that quality. He further pointed out that with lower protein flours it is necessary to lower the hydration to get it to hold together, and that '00' flour needs very little water, but the negative trade off in a home oven is that it tends to dry out during the necessarily longer bake (7 minutes vs. 1 minute in Italian "fornos".) He said that Chris Bianco bakes his pizzas about 3 minutes, which he can do because of the higher hydration.
Peter concluded by saying that pizza making is basically all about personal preference and comfort zones, and flavor/texture preferences. He recommended that I play with them all. Before closing his reply he added that he was not sure which Giusto flour Bianco uses, but he thought it was an organic bread flour but couldn't recall the specific name. He suggested that I try calling Keith Giusto at his new bakery in Penn Grove, CA--possibly under the name Full Circle Bakery. He gave me Keith's email address and said Keith now has his own line of flours and might be willing to send me some to try. Peter asked me to keep him posted. As it turns out, I had already found Keith Giusto's telephone number and called it earlier in the day before calling Pizzeria Bianco, only to learn that Keith was out today and would be back in the bakery tomorrow and would talk to me then (and answer any questions I have) if I wanted to call back (which I plan to do). (As an aside, I had read that Keith is a family maverick who spun off from the Giusto flour business and now was in the flour business on his own).
Well, that about sums it up. If anything, what I experienced today was evidence of the passion that exists with pizza makers all over.
P.S. Both of the Biancos come from the Bronx area of New York. Marco said one of his favorite New York-area pizzerias is Grimaldi's, under the Brooklyn Bridge.