When the American importer for the most popular Italian pizza flour emails you an invitation to hang out at their mill in Naples for a week of pizza making and pizza eating, there’s only one response. You pass out. Upon regaining consciousness, you search through your most recent emails to make sure it wasn’t all just a dream. Then you see that not only is it real, but the address line of the email contains other invitees. It’s a list of my favorite pizza makers and I’m being invited to join them in pizza mecca for a week of nonstop pizza madness. I didn’t question it, I just replied in the affirmative and immediately packed my bags for the most incredible journey of all time.
We all assembled at JFK airpirt; it was John Arena (Metro Pizza in Las Vegas), Michele D’Amelio (A Mano), Tony Gemignani (Tony’s Pizza, Pizza Rock, Capo’s) and me. Giulio Adriani (Forcella, SRO, Neapolitan Express, Service Station) was waiting for us in Naples, where he started making some test dough a few days in advance of our arrival. Orlando Foods, the importer for Caputo flour and Ciao tomatoes, brought us all out to Naples to help Caputo develop a new product for the American market. They’re already the big kahuna of flour brands in the Neapolitan pizza game and now they want to bring their reputation for high quality, finely-milled, all-natural flour to American style pizzerias. Caputo brought us in to help fine tune the product before it gets into the hands of pizzerias across the country. The result is called Pizza Americana and we’re really happy with the result!
The photo above was taken about 20 minutes after we arrived at the Caputo test kitchen in Naples. Everybody wanted to get right to work! It was absolutely fascinating to watch these great pizza makers as they worked together on the project. Giulio, John, and Tony each made batches of dough using three different versions of the new product. We tested varying levels of protein and malt to figure out which would be the optimal blend. Once we nailed that, each pizzaiolo made their dough with the winner of the flour-off. We tried them with packaged yeast and preferments (starter, poolish, criscito) with different fermentation times and dialed in formulas that produced some killer pies.
I was actually shocked at how well these guys worked together. I expected some ego clashes but everyone pulled together as a team rather than fighting about whose recipe worked better. Each team member brought something different to the table, so we all learned a ton from watching the others in action.
The mission was to combine Italian flavor with American structure for a flour that would satisfy the American market without abandoning Caputo’s high level of quality. We brought samples of American flour to make comparison batches and the results were clearly in favor of the Caputo version. I do wish we had time for another couple days of testing, including some double blind testing and a few other American products to compare (and Italian ones). Still, we know it’s possible to make a killer New York pie with this new Caputo product; mission accomplished!
(above left to right) Me, John Arena, Tony Gemignani, Michele D’Amelio, Giulio Adriani
In between pizza making sessions, we went out to some of the best pizzerias in Naples. The crew from Caputo would call ahead and arrange for a tables at each pizzeria. These guys are so into pizza making they were incapable of visiting a pizzeria without getting behind the counter. The photo above is Tony showing off a pie he made at 50 Kalo, the first pizzeria we hit on the trip. This happened at just about every pizzeria. It’s like traveling with Neil Young and he keeps sitting in with the killer local bands. Whoa, that analogy either makes a lot of sense or no sense at all.
Here’s Antimo and me chillin’ in the flour warehouse! He explained the characteristics of all their products and we talked a bit about the right name for the product we were developing.
On the second day, we took a break after lunch to visit the lab where Mauro Caputo designs Caputo’s flour products. It’s not as simple as just passing wheat berries through a mill; Caputo combines several different wheat varieties and mills them together to create an all-natural product with the characteristics they want. The alternative is to introduce additives, but Caputo doesn’t roll that way. Every season, Mauro has to analyze different wheat coming into the mill and recalculate formulas based on protein, bran, ash, and other components of the wheat berry.
Check out all these cool science machines!!! The one on the right tests elasticity by stretching a chunk of dough until it snaps. There was another machine that blows a bubble in the dough, that was pretty rad! I wish I took videos of these tests because they’re really fun to watch. I guess you’ll just have to pick up one of thee machines off eBay and try it yourself. JUST REMEMBER TO TAKE A VIDEO!!!
This trip was amazing. There was lots of standing around a pizza, talking about it in the manner you’d talk about a car you’re thinking about buying. It really was a dream come true.