Rather than dribbling around the backcourt on the Lamonica's Costco dough balls, I decided this afternoon to call Lamonica's to see if I could speak with someone about their dough balls and their use. I ended up being placed in touch with Roberto Martini, out of Lamonica's Los Angeles office. This resulted in a fairly lengthy and productive discussion with Roberto. To guide our discussion, I used the information on the Costco Lamonica dough balls that Marc (widespreadpizza) helpfully provided earlier in this thread. In fact, I used the Costco example to pretty much frame all of my questions.
From Roberto I learned that their Costco dough product is as simple and as basic as indicated in the ingredients list on the box for which Marc provided a photo. Unlike many of their competitors, they use no chemical additives or conditioners or anything else like that in their frozen dough balls (I was told that their basic dough formulation has not changed much over time). The "wheat" listed in the Lamonica's Costco's ingredients list turns out to be a modifier for the flour used in their dough, not a separate ingredient, such as vital wheat gluten that is commonly used in frozen doughs. The flour is a high gluten flour, and it is not bromated. When I asked the protein content, I was told that it is "13 point something" percent. Had I guessed, I would have said something between 13% and 14%, since it is very common to use higher protein flours for frozen doughs. Roberto did not know the precise amount of olive oil used in the dough, but its use is mainly for flavor. The yeast used in the Lamonica's dough is a dry yeast. When I asked if it was instant dry yeast, he said yes (although I suspect that the yeast may be a special freeze-tolerant strain). He also confirmed that the yeast levels are high to compensate for the destruction of some of the yeast during freezing. Since it was clear that Roberto did not know specific baker's percents, I did not probe further on those numbers.
We spoke for some time on the best way to use their dough balls, with emphasis on the duration of the slack out (defrost) time, and the window of use after the dough has defrosted. It is important to keep in mind that the numbers for flash frozen dough balls are not the same as for dough balls that are frozen in a static freezer environment, as might be done in a typical home freezer environment. However, for their dough balls, the recommended time for defrosting the dough balls is a day, and preferably two days in the cooler (to get more fermentation). From that point on, the recommended use is about one day at a recommended room temperature of 75 degrees F. That temperature is to promote sufficient proofing of the dough. Roberto acknowledged that if the room temperature is not as high as 75 degrees F, it is possible to temper the dough balls longer in order to compensate for the lower room temperature. Remember that the only fermentation that a frozen dough gets is during the slack-out time and during the temper time, so it is very helpful to stretch these times out as much as possible, but without overfermenting the dough, to yield more fermentation and better crust flavor. It is also possible to take a dough ball from the freezer and let it warm up at room temperature. This is a method that is often used by operators. As an example, Costco's might bring frozen dough balls to room temperature at around 8 AM and be ready to use at 11 AM, when they open up their food court for business. In its own test laboratories, Lamonica's has been able to keep defrosted dough balls in its coolers for up to 7 days without any problem. However, it recommends a window of three days for its customers. No doubt, over time customers have figured out the longer workable window of usability.
The lifespan of Lamonica's dough balls is six months at 0 degrees F. However, in its laboratories, it has held dough balls for over a year without any problems. By contrast, for a home static freezer environment, Tom Lehmann recommends 10 days, and possibly up to 15 days. Lamonica's recommends that users use their frozen dough balls within six months.
I was not able to get any pricing information. The reason is that Lamonica's does not sell directly to end users. It uses distributors and foodservice companies, who set the pricing to end users.
Roberto also confirmed that Costco's uses dough presses to shape out their skins, mainly since little training is required for their workers to operate the dough presses. The results are also more consistent and uniform using the dough presses compared with alternative methods (like hand stretching), especially for skins that are 18" in diameter.
In closing our conversation, I asked Roberto how big the Costco's pizza "business" is compared with the large chains. He said that Costco's has over 500 stores and that he was told by Costco that if they were a standalone pizza operation they would be one of the largest pizza operators in the country. He pointed out that most pizza chains don't get the traffic that Costco's gets. Also, Costco sells slices as well as whole pizzas, and the slice business is a big contributor to their "pizza" business.