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Offline JF_Aidan_Pryde

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The Da Michele Experience
« on: March 19, 2006, 06:22:05 AM »
Earlier this year, on a holiday to Italy, my family and I had the chance to sample pizza from the famous pizzeria Da Michele. As many of you know, Da Michele is one of the oldest and most respected pizzerias in Naples. We ordered two Magheritas and one Marinara. Each Pizza costs only 3.5 Euro. It was quite packed when we visisted and indeed seems to be a very popular place.

After having had some dreadful pizzas in Rome and having heard the nothing but praise for Da Michele, my expectations were very high. I have not had a single good Neapolitan pizza since arriving in Italy and on that day I was particularly hungry.

The pizzas were delivered to our table in about three minutes after ordering. Three things stand out about the Neapolitan pie.

1. Extremely soft
The combination of high hydration and ultra thin dough results in a pie so soft that you could not 'hold' a slice up in your hand. It asks to be folded and eaten or eaten or a late with a knife and fork. The idea of a rigid slice in your hand is out.

Being so soft, it is also devoid of any crispness. This includes the base and the rim. The entire pizza is soft and chewy and has no part which is crispy, including the charred bits. In contrast, the pizza I had at A16 was not as soft, but crispy around the edges. In this regard, I prefer the A16 style better.

2. Very chewy
You can taste the work that has gone into the dough. The structure is very membrany. Perhaps so elastic and well worked that it approaches gum in chewyness. Not in a bad way of course. Just as Italians like their pasta al dante, they must like their pizza super chewy.

3. Bitter
The pizza's bottom crust and rim is 'leoparded' with black spots. These may look kind of cool but I can't say I enjoyed eating them. The pizza has a unmistakable bitter taste due to these spots. Perhaps it can become an aquired taste.

All in all, I enjoyed my pizza and was not disappointed. However, I didn't have a 'blast' eating it and did not find all its characteristics to my taste. I can clearly see that the pizza is technically very good, probably a 9.5/10, but for me, on that day, it didn't make me giddy.

I had as similar experience at A16. The pizza I had at A16 was also technically very good, but having just got off a 13 hour trans-pacific flight and gone way over my hunger curve, I couldn't enjoy it for what it was.

Please see pictures below.

 
« Last Edit: March 19, 2006, 06:29:52 AM by JF_Aidan_Pryde »

Offline JF_Aidan_Pryde

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #1 on: March 19, 2006, 06:24:41 AM »
A note about the Da Michele oven. Jeff has been complaining about the dismal state of wood fire oven places in the US. I can empathise. In Australia, most wood fire ovens appear to have some burning cinderes instead of fire. A few pieces of wood is used at most.

The Da Michele oven by comparison is a blast furnace. I can feel the heat three meters away. There must be two dozen logs inside with fire roaring up the wall. The whole thing is alive. The fire is extremely dense. Think Napalm.

Each pizza is cooked with a great amount of attention. It is first laid close to the fire. After a while, it is rotated. Finally the pizza is lifted next to the flames and scorched before exiting the oven.
« Last Edit: March 19, 2006, 06:30:36 AM by JF_Aidan_Pryde »

Offline JF_Aidan_Pryde

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #2 on: March 19, 2006, 06:27:27 AM »
I took this picture with an old pizzialo who looks like 'da boss'. Does anyone know who he is?

Online Pete-zza

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #3 on: March 19, 2006, 10:14:20 AM »
James,

I think it is great that you and your family had a chance to get to Naples and to try the pizza at what is considered to be one of Naples' very best pizzerias. Thank you for your review and for sharing your photos with us.

It is very difficult to critique restaurants. If expectations are set too high, either because of what you may have read or been told in advance, it is quite easy to end up being disappointed once you get there--even at a pizzeria like Da Michele, which I suspect did everything right when you were there. But even when the food is prepared properly and the service is first class, there can be many other factors that can govern the quality of the overall dining experience. It can be something as simple as just not liking the food served to you, based on purely personal taste and preferences. But in my experience there can be many other factors. For example, if you are with good friends, hungry, drinking, in a pleasant setting, in a good frame of mind and otherwise having a good time, the food, whether pizza or anything else, will usually taste better. In my own experience, something as simple as having a very good bottle of wine (to me, one of life's great pleasures) with the pizza will make both the pizza and the wine seem quite a bit better. Under these kinds of circumstances, I wouldn't trust my own review. At least your review was analytical and technical, focusing mainly on the pizza itself, which I think has value to others who may be considering Da Michele among the places to try while they are in Naples.

Did you get a chance to try any of the other pizzerias in Naples and, if so, how would you compare what you ate there with Da Michele?

Peter

Offline scott r

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #4 on: March 19, 2006, 12:17:51 PM »

3. Bitter
The pizza's bottom crust and rim is 'leoparded' with black spots. These may look kind of cool but I can't say I enjoyed eating them. The pizza has a unmistakable bitter taste due to these spots. Perhaps it can become an acquired taste.
 

I can almost guarantee that this bitter flavor was from the bench flavor on the bottom of the pie and not from the char spots.  The first time I ever had a real Neapolitan pizza (from Roberto Caporucio) I had the same strange experience, wondering what that flavor was, and even confusing it for a dough cooked with a starter that had fermented too long. I later came to find out that he does not use a starter, and eventually found out about the dreaded burned bench flour taste on my own pizzas.  In normal pizza ovens this does not really happen, or if it does it has a different flavor.  At these crazy high temperatures the flour turns REALLY bitter.  You have to be really light with the bench flour when cooking at high temps.  I wish I could say that you were having an isolated experience, but fellow forum member Upper Crust told me he had the same experience at Da Michelle when he was there a few months ago.

I can say that at Antica Costa Pizzeria there was not any bitter favor and the pies had more texture to them then you describe from Da Michelle.  It was pure heaven.  Also, Trianon (right across the street from Da Michelle) served us five pizzas with no bitter bench flour taste, although the dough was softer like what you are describing at Da Michelle.  Finally a few random pizza carts on the street also had no bench flour taste, and the most amazing fluffy, soft, but still with a little bit of crisp texture to the dough.  If I remember correctly the oven at Trianon was the most napalm like of the ovens I saw, so it makes sense that the hotter the oven the softer the crust. Also Da Michelle is known to use a really high hydration for a Caputo based dough.

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Online Pete-zza

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #5 on: March 19, 2006, 01:01:51 PM »
I have in the past received dough formulations originating with the Caputo folks in Italy and the instructions are very clear about not using too much flour when making the dough rounds. In fact, in the most recent formulation I received, there is this statement, highlighted as follows: It is important to make sure that any extra flour be immediately removed so that it will not adhere to the dough and give the pizza a bitter flavor.

Peter

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #6 on: March 19, 2006, 01:30:35 PM »
That's why I really like my new perforated peel. I really does help remove a lot of excess flour. After putting the dressed pie on the peel, I shake the peel over the make-up board; excess flour falls through the holes and covers the board with a light coating of flour for the next pie. 

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Offline scott r

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #7 on: March 19, 2006, 02:18:30 PM »
I forgot to mention that those are absolutely beautiful pictures.  Thank you so much for posting JF!

Offline varasano

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #8 on: March 19, 2006, 02:36:00 PM »
Hmmmm.....  Interesting. Scott I ran that experiment I told you about. Very, very wet dough to stand up to the super high heat, using 3% starter and a 16 hour 75F rise.

Unfortunately, I screwed up the test because I had a change in my plans and ended up leaving the dough to rise too long. It was ready in 12-13 hours and after 16 was overrisen.

However, I baked it anyway, at 887F.  The result: JF_Aidan_Pryde could have been describing my whole experience: Extremely soft, Very chewy, Bitter.  That's exactly what I got.

Now what's interesting is that my first reaction was the same as scott's first reaction - I was concluding that the taste is too much sourness from too much fermentation.

But you guys are now talking about bench flour.  Here's a problem. Scott, as we talked about, I made a higher hydration than ever before to keep it from burning at the high temp. That worked. It was a nice char, even at 887 (About an 85 second pie). But, to work with a dough like that I had to use a lot of bench flour. It was soooo sticky.  I was trying to keep it down, but honestly, I can see that this would create a continuing problem and would likely make it hard to make a consistenly good pie.

Having said that, I'm not sure that the bench flour was 100% the culprit. I've got to run the experiment again properly without the overrise. I still think it might be that the dough itself is too sour. I literally took this crust apart and tasted the middle separately, trying to separate the outside flavor from the inside. And I tasted problems throughout the dough.  I also find that at these high temps the inside of the dough  has a slight amount of rawness internally that makes it too chewey.

And dare I say it: I 'm not sure that I'm really digging caputo flour.  That nutty flavor is not helping along with the sourness that I've gotten in a variety of experiments designed to get to these high temps and do away with the cold rise, etc. But I will do a few more experiments and see. My best pies have still been my old standard: KA Bread, 3 day cold rise, a 2:00 - 2:30 pie.

Jeff

Offline sumeri

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #9 on: March 19, 2006, 05:26:22 PM »
I have no problem with some of the critique of Da Michele and this in no way is anything against your comments JF.  Everyone has their own tastes and preferences.  But as someone that has spent his fair share of time eating pizza and studying pizza making in Napoli, those are some of the most perfect pizzas I have ever seen.
You should never be able to eat a good Napoli style pizza by holding a slice in your hand without the tip drooping.  A good Napoli style pizza needs to be easily foldable.  If you want a little crisp to it, all they would have to do is put it in the lowest temp. spot in the oven and let it sit there.  They could turn the thing into a cracker if thats how you want it, but that has nothing to do with Napoli style pizza.  I don't understand when people go looking for Napoli style pizza and then complain because it was chewy or not crispy??  If you like it that way, then good Napoli style pizza is not what you are looking for. 
I am surprised that a pizzeria like Da Michele had a bitter taste to the bottom of the pizza.  On Monday Antimo Caputo, Roberto Capruscio and two pizzaioli from Napoli came out to my pizzeria.  They were here until almost midnight drinking wine, making pizzas and offering us their expertise.  We spent a lot of time talking about using a good soft dough yet using little or no bench flour.  Those guys are truly artists.  The fact that you had a bitter bench flour experience at Da Michele is very suprising.

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Offline varasano

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #10 on: March 19, 2006, 05:30:20 PM »
Sumeri,

any tips on how to use a very wet dough without a good amount of bench flour?

Jeff

Offline sumeri

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #11 on: March 19, 2006, 06:45:35 PM »
I'll share some of the tips I have learned, but I still feel like quite the amature myself most of the time.
First once you put tomatoes on the pizza you are in a race against time.  You have to work quick.  I can work pretty quickly, my problem is I am a little messy....This can be almost as bad as being slow.  Any liquid that gets on the bench is just going to cause the pizza to stick as you drag the pizza across it.
Give the pizza a few quick jabs with a scraper.  You will get the feel of when you don't have to do this, but I usually always have to if I am doing more than one or two pizzas.  Especially if the are heavier pizzas like a cappriciosa or something else with a butt load of toppings on it.  Just a quick jab under each "corner" of the pizza.
One trick that I learned from the pizzaiolo from Napoli that I am still have trouble with, but I understand how it could help is how you take the pizza.  I was taught to take the pizza from the bottom pulling it onto the peel.  He taught me to take it from the side, almost lifting it and gently rotating the pizza onto the peel.  He feels the quick initial rotation helps to prevent the pizza from sticking in the middle.
Another trick they taught was to make the pizza's on the bench a little smaller than normal and then stretch them a little once they are on the board. 
Hope some of these help.  I am still learning, almost lost a cappriciosa this afternoon.

Offline pizzanapoletana

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #12 on: March 19, 2006, 07:06:10 PM »
JF_ A..

I am glad you had the opportunity to try the pizza at Da Michele and I can understand few of your comment, but please do not jump to conclusion. First of all, i have to say that from your picture, I can see that the first pizza was slightly burned, and the other at the edge with not being to their serving best (check il pizzaiolo report from Naples of last year)

The Old Pizzamaker in the Picture is Don Luigi Condurro, the oldest pizzamaker alive, brother of the owner of da Michele and he has been working in that pizzeria since he was a child. He is officially retired but still comes to the pizzeria everyday to oversee the works and also make the first few pizza early in the morning while the other pizzamakers are busy with some prep work. Don Luigi has always stressed to me the importance of removing the extra flour from the bench during the disc forming (I think I have mention this in the past..???) but unfortunately his worker do not often do so during busy time (I do understand the reasons and if you had some experience with that dough you could also understand the difficulties of managing this type of dough while making 60-80 pizza an hour). Scott has centred the problem (did I tell you that? ;-): the bitterness comes from the burnt flour.. . Their type of dough, like mine, my friend Ciro's and few others, it is extremely hydrated and very difficult to work with. Very few pizzamaker are able to work with it and that is the reason (not good enough for me) many pizzeria prefer an harder dough (and short rise) and the reason while pizza napoletana has been changing in the last 20 years. I have also seen Pizzamaker trained in Naples in other places that could not even lift a dough ball from the tray in my friend Ciro place... Varasano, that is the secret, the right training and experience.... some people call it "manico" (hand feel). It comes with a different approach alltogether to it... Again, links my comments above with all the episodes of frustration that I have shown everytime someone missinterpreted a neapolitan pizza...

It is not hard to make a dry, crisp, pizza.. It is hard to make a cook  pizza that retain all its freshness and that feels alive...

The key to read Da Michele pizza is to look for the softness and aliveness of the dough (the chewiness) as well the melt in the mouth feel. Can you remember how much effort did you make to cut the pizza? Did it not slash by itself as soon as the knife touch it??? That it is difficult to obtain.. I now remember Bill question about how did I cut my dough and still retain the form.. that was due to the effortless cutting thanks to the pizza itself...

Try to reproduce these results is not possible in any static oven, no matter how hot these get.

Ciao

« Last Edit: March 19, 2006, 07:11:19 PM by pizzanapoletana »

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #13 on: March 19, 2006, 07:32:05 PM »
Jeff,
The replies you got above on to how to work with sticky dough with minimal bench flour are from people with far more experience than I (a year ago when I joined this board, my earliest posts were about this dilemma). But let me add a few comments from what I have learned over the past year.

First of all, the stickiness of the dough is more than just a function of the hydration percentage of the dough. It also can depend a lot on the how the dough is mixed to incorporate the water. This effects both the stickiness of the dough and the texture of the final product. I now use techniques, mostly thanks to Marco, regarding the gradual introduction of flour and the use of a riposo at the end of the kneading that seem to result in a more workable dough (and a better final product). The mixer you use also makes a difference and it is clear you must adapt your kneading regimen to the characteristics of your mixer. The KA is the most problematic in this regard, IMO.

I also agree with sumeri that speed is a major factor if you are using the smallest amount of bench flour possible. The window is very small as demonstrated clearly for me last night. I had a fully dressed pie on the peel, ready to be rushed outside to be feed into the oven when the power went out. In the two minutes it took for me to find and light a lantern, the pie had completely fused to the peel.  :(

Bill/SFNM

Offline varasano

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #14 on: March 19, 2006, 08:08:05 PM »
I will try to do some of these things to use less bench flour. I now mix on the marble, then shake off and move to the peel. I used to shape right on the peel and this left more flour.

Anyway, these photos were from earlier in the week.

This dough was a 4 day cold rise using a blend of KA Bread, KASL and Caputo.  Very wet dough. The big thing here was that I used my Kitchen Aid mixer instead of my DLX. While the DLX is far the superior machine, I now have a lot more experience with technique using a wet-knead. The result: the dough was just as good in the KA as it was with the DLX. The DLX is capable of mixing much larger batches and is easier to use, but for 4 pies or less, and with the wet-knead technique, I can now say that the KA dough is just as good.

Both pies were exactly 2:30 at just over 800F.  The cornice is not as well defined as it could have been. I put the sauce too close the edge sometimes and forget to shape the cornice up front before stretching. I'll fix this next time.  But the crust was super soft and tasty. These pies were as close to Pasty's as I've come. These were among my very best.  They were amazing.  The flavor, the texture, the sauce were incredible. But they were not quite as 'Neapolitan' as some are striving for (sorry Marco, LOL).  These were all NY.
« Last Edit: March 19, 2006, 08:12:41 PM by varasano »

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Offline JF_Aidan_Pryde

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #15 on: March 19, 2006, 11:11:47 PM »
Jeff,
Absolutely sensational pie. The mozz looks like melting clouds. And those blisters on the bottom. You've definitely got it.

Offline JF_Aidan_Pryde

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #16 on: March 19, 2006, 11:27:14 PM »
Pete,
I tried one other pizzeria, a "Pizzeria Sophia" (that's right pft!) next to my Holiday Inn hotel. I have to say, it tasted pretty much in line with what I ate at Da Michele; soft, chewy and bitter.

Sumeri,
Please do not take my comments about crispness and drooping as complaints. I was just making some observations. I don't mean to say one style is superior to another.

Marco,
Thanks for pointing out Don Luigi Condurro. I had a hunch that I was taking a picture with a very senior pizza maker. If I ever open a pizzeria, I would have that picture hung on the wall. :D


Offline sumeri

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Re: The Da Michele Experience
« Reply #17 on: March 20, 2006, 12:32:52 AM »
JF,
No worries.  I have no problem with Roma style or Sardegna style or any other style pizza.  In fact I love them. 
I am just trying to learn as much as I can about the Mamma pizza!

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