When I learned how to make dough from Lombardi and Pero, and later from Pete Castelloti at Johns, and from what I have observed from pizza makers at the time--no one was observing A: giving the dough a rest before it was to be finished kneading, and B: no one was using any kind of starter or preferment. Jerry Pero prepared his dough early in the morning and left it out all day to rise. If you went there on a Saturday or Sunday when they served pizza all day, the pizzas prepared later in the day were the best. Lombardi (the grandson) on the otherhand had adapted the formula to include refrigeration, and room temperature bulk first rise. The other thing that differentiated Pero's dough was that he employed a lower gluten flour 12-12.50 and everybody else was using high gluten 13+.
The thing about the original Lombardi formula as followed by Jerry Pero is that is came from a period that predated refrigeration--lots of pizza makers still follow the same technique, just as they have always done. However, even for the sake of authenticity, in a commercial situation, the technique is flawed because the pizzas produced earlier in the day are not consistent with the results of longer fermentation and they are not as light. But, 30 years ago, I would never quarrel with the master, all I knew was that I wanted to harness the peak perfection that the evening pizzas attained.
Lombardi was using the method his Grandfather, the original Gennaro had adapted to a mixer and to refrigeration in the 50's, however, this adaptation also featured a very high gluten flour, which became the favorite of pizza makers in NYC. Pero continued to use the lower protein flour of the original formula. So I combined the best of both methods: I used the lower protein flour, gave it a long first bulk raise at room temp, refrigerated it in bulk another 12 hours then scaled and formed, and the dough was ready to use 8-12 hours later. (24-36 hours in all before using) This gave me the best qualities of the original formula but now with consistent commercial results. The flour played an huge role in the success of the recipe. The average pizza maker in NYC favors the ultra high protein flour because it has great oven spring, and that's what they've traditionally used. But high protein flour produces a crust that is really, chewy and not tender. As it cools, it becomes hard. Pero's pizza was thin, crisp, pleasantly chewy and light becuase of the slightly lower protein content of the flour. (PS ask any one at Totonnos about this and they will NEVER give away any details about their formula--they even repackage their flour into plain brown bags so the brand won't be given away!!) Fortunately for me, when I got to Jerry, he wasn't famous and once I penetrated that gruff exterior, he was more than willing to share his knowledge.
So, that was my adaptation of the Original Lombardi formula, which was to basically stick to the ingredients but to apply the long, slow fermentation to get the same results on a consistent commercial level. Basically, I had to bridge the old with the new. Now, let's talk about the process I adapted--no one else was doing it--not the old timers and certainly not the average pizza guy. The flavor, texture, color and consistency I achieved was through the direct mix method and long fermentation. The few old timers that were left, made their dough in the morning and used it 6-8 hours later. What developed out of that, was that pizza makers turned to dough enhancers and conditioners to hasten their fresh dough process to 3-4 hours because they did not want to wait. The few old timers that utilized a combination of bench or bulk rise and refrigerated rise rarely held the dough for more 12 hours. They knew the dough could last longer in the coole but not too long because they were pushing too much yeast in their formula to have it last much longer than 24 hours.
In the late 70's, over night fermentation was really not widely practised. In the mid-eithties, when I first started teaching and giving seminars for Pizza Expo and writing for Pizza Today, when I would talk about the principles and benefits of long slow fermentation, I was widely thought of as an eccentric oddity. Pizza makers could not wrap themselves around the idea of waiting--they wanted to make dough "fresh" every day. I told them they were making fresh dough every day, it just wouldn't be used until 36 hours later. They mostly thought it was way too much trouble and not worth the effort.
In the eighties, when the "gourmet" pizza revolution was taking place, everyone was into topping centric pizza, the crust was superfluous. To the average pizza guy, flour was what they purchased from their distributor under a private lable at the cheapest price. The problem with that is that distributors slap their lables on whatever bulk flour they purchase, so the pizza makers formulas were always out of whack, to "fix" their problems, the pizza makers turned to conditioners and additives to make it work. It was (and still is) is vicious circle. That is when I started to apply bread baking techniques to pizza. Back then, the term artisan bread had not yet caught on nationally but I was spending a lot of time in Berkeley with friends since the mid 70's and was influenced by what Steve Sullivan at Acme Bread was doing. I was also a fan of Raymond Calvel's teachings (by the way Peter, he did pass away last summer some time). I recognized the similarities of the characteristics of rustic breads and to the Lombardi formula--which had been influenced by the baking methodology of that period. I began to handle the dough differently, I started giving it a rest in a similar fashion as the autolyse method and I started to mix my dough on low speed only and for a very short time. This is what I put together from what I knew about artisan bread baking. Was I scientific about it, did I compare vital statistics--formula percentages--no. At that point, no one was using baker's percent for pizza, it was all based on volumetric--touch and feel. Sure, the chains had formulas, but the average pizza maker mostly made dough by the seat of their pants. The old masters didn't weigh out anything, they took whatever volume container: can or banged up pitcher, poured the water in by the number, dumped a sack of flour into the mixer, a scoop of salt and a piece of baker's yeast. (sugar and oil, if used, were also administered hapazardly). Because of this lack of structure, the dough would vary widely. The masters, who knew their dough could cope, because their years of experience guided them when to add a little more or less of something. The new guys didn't have that kind of experience,nor were they willing to put the time or effort into learning about their doughs. I used to tell people in seminars, you must spend at least a full year of making the dough everyday, through all of the seasons, to really master it. Again, people thought I was nuts.
When I went to Italy to judge the World Pizza Championships in the early 90's, I had the opportunity to go to Italian pizza school in Carole near Venice. I also spent several weeks travelling around to visit with many pizza makers. While 99% of the guys I worked with, made the dough in the morning and used it just a few hours later, their techniques were intrigingly different. That is where I actually saw pizza makers using a riposo technique (which I had come to on my own through my bread making experience). They also used spiral mixers which gently agited the dough. I had never seen these mixers in a pizzeria back in the states. I had been practising the same kind of thing on my own--in a kind of pizza making vacuum.
When I hooked up with Tom and gave him my formula for traditional New York pizza, it was not what I was personally producing. I knew that my approach was certainly too complicated for the average American pizza maker, so I gave him the formula that would produce the best deck oven type pizza--like a DeMarco type, only I called for an overnight refrigerated fermentation, so it was basically a 24 hour dough. I know that DeMarco uses a same day dough, but the formula I gave Tom would produce similar results but more consistently. What I came away with from AIB was the scientific knowledge behind the techniques--after that, there was no stopping me!
When I was hanging out with Ron Wirtz at AIB, we would spend hours talking about applying artisan bread techniques to pizza and that is when I became interested in preferments. I did a lot of experimenting on my own with these techniques and taught chefs and some interested pizza makers how to make pizza utilizing these methods. Unfortunately, there just wasn't a whole lot of interest in this kind of pizza making. Historically, there has been a real prejudice against pizza as a culinary art form, but fortunately, that is rapidly changing--finally! I Pizza Today was not interested in letting me write about these techniques because they thought that only chefs would be interested and that it was way above the average pizza maker's head. What it boiled down to was that it didn't represent a big enough "market". So I kept at it, experimenting, refining and talking with anyone who would call, write or e[mail me about it. People would seek me out if they really wanted to know about the old methods--the traditional methods--long before "artisan" pizza came on the scene.
When I worked for Grande Cheese, I got to travel all over the USA and visited thousands of pizza shops. That is where I got first hand experience of what the average independent pizza maker was doing on a national level. Grande employed me to help their endusers to improve their product through ingredients and technique. I did that for 15 years and the experience was priceless. I've always been objective about what makes great pizza. The type of rareified pizza that I did personally and what a small circle of old timers and passionate pizzaiolos thought of as the "art" of pizza was not what the average Joe was doing in their shop. Does that mean, they can't make great pizza? Hey is that like comparing the Mona Lisa to Warhol's Cambell's soup cans--they are both great art, but on different levels and they appeal to different tastes. The same with great pizza. My goal has been to has been to make the average pizza maker more aware of the quality of their ingredients and to learn the techniques that will help them to make pure pizza without chemical crutches. Now that the number of pizza "eccentrics" seems to be on the rise, I will be more public about championing the artisan cause and with PMQ behind me, I will have the platform to get out there.