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Fat Guy

The cost of pizza

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I don't think it's anywhere written that one can't use tomatoes that are not D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes. I think one argument being put forth is that these are generally speaking the best quality canned tomatoes one can buy. Could a company in the United States grow and process tomatoes that were just as good, it not better? Sure, it's possible. But right now, they aren't. I would think that lovingly home-grown and home-canned tomatoes grown in the right combination of climate and soil should be at least as good as any D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes.

For the most part, this isn't the sort of thing we do in the United States, however. In Italy, for example, they have consortia that regulate not only the criteria and area of origin for various traditional foodstuffs and products, but also quality, etc. So if you get a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, you know where it was made, how it was made, what cows produced the milk, what those cows were fed, and have some idea as to the minimum quality and characteristic qualifications. Similarly, if you buy D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes, you know that it has been grown in a certain climate in a certain soil, has been grown in a certain kind of way, and has met various criteria for size, shape, color, ripeness, pH, etc. We just don't have anything like this in America. "Wisconsin cheddar cheese" is, more or less, defined as "cheddar cheese that is produced in Wisconsin." The closest thing we might have are "Vidalia onions," which are any one of a number of yellow granex onion varietals grown in the production area around Vidalia, Georgia. But really it's more of a trade name, as these are simply onions with a low sulfur content and there is nothing that particularly distinguishes Vidalia onions from sweet onions sold under any number of other trade names, such as Walla Walla onions, Texas Sweet onions, etc.

When you do all the regulation and testing, etc. that the various Italian consortia do in order to ensure a certain standard of quality, that equals higher cost.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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When you do all the regulation and testing, etc. that the various Italian consortia do in order to ensure a certain standard of quality, that equals higher cost.

What gets me: Importing San Marzanos and FLOUR (of all things) from Italy seems 100% contrary to the Italian tradition of buying local products. Not just "local, as in a two day drive." It's "these vegetables came from my neighbor's farm down the street" local.

It doesn't make a lot of sense to me that American Italian restaurants (as opposed to Italian-American) are flying in sardines from Sicily every day. It seems to be a mockery of the Italian philosophy of how to source food.


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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I suppose it depends on your outlook. A non-local food would be unlikely to find its way into most traditional indigenous Italian culinary traditions, although this is not universally so. But a major point of canned tomatoes is that they travel and aren't dependent upon freshness, etc. As a generality, if there is some product that travels and is perceived as being the best, Italians will use it. Otherwise, there would never be dishes like risotto alla milanese with (non-local) saffron and (non-local) Parmigiano-Reggiano. So, I wouldn't necessarily say that it "goes against the spirit of Italian cooking" to use imported D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes if you can't get your hands on any that approach being that good. After all, you're likely to get D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes on your pizza in Milan or Rome, where they have been "imported" from Campania.


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But do you think there are many ristorantes in Campania that would import oysters from Washington state, because they're perceived to be the best? I can throw a rock and hit an Italian restaurant on the Las Vegas strip that imports sardines or branzini. This I don't get.


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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If a Canadian whose grandfather was born in Italy but himself has never been there uses his grandmothers recipe for pizza but used flour that was milled in Kansas, cheese made in Wisconson and tomatoes from his neighbors back yard ( a person whose grandfather was born in Sweden) and bakes his pizza in Toronto, is it Italian food? If it's good, does anyone really care?

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Of course it's Italian food, Norm. You are making pizza from traditional ingredients: tomato, flour for a crust, mozz. If I pick up lemongrass, cilantro, little hot red peppers, thai basil and fresh rice noodles I believe I am making a Thai noodle dish. None of the ingredients come from Thailand.

Okay, so what's the pizza I made last week? The crust was a basic flour crust. Then went a thin layer of sauce that I made from DOP SM canned imported Italian tomatoes. Over that was a modest amount of good quality cow milk mozz, not imported. The topping was sliced locally grown heirloom tomatoes drained of excessive juice, chunks of fresh Dole pineapple and the finish was a scatter of Thai basil, most likely grown within 50 miles of my house. Given the combination of ingredients (tomato, pineapple and Thai basil) I would say this a sort of Thai pizza. But some might take a quick glance and call it a Hawaiian pizza. The technique was invented in Italy. The ingredients were easily purchased without going too far from home; clearly the canned tomatoes and the pineapple were anything but local and neither was the KA flour. It tasted great. It was pizza.

Presumably home cooking is about making yummy food using the best ingredients you can find--given time and budget and location. Surely Italians were growing tomatoes and making pizza before canning was invented, and surely they were making tomato sauce from whatever local tomatoes they grew best, San Marzano or not. I have a friend who is buying locally grown San Marzanos and she is making sauce from them. More power to her if she has the time and enjoys the process. I'm pretty happy with the canned ones. Prices of fresh tomatoes at the farmers' markets around here are anything but a deal; it's possible that her sauce will cost about as much as the sauce I make from the imported DOP.

Oh, one more thing. SLK, what is the definition of a trade name? Maybe I don't quite understand what you were saying. Having some first-hand experience with Walla Walla onions, I can tell you that any onion that calls itself a Walla Walla (as some farmers' market vendors in Berkeley call their sweet onions) but which is grown here in northern CA doesn't taste the same as one that comes out the dirt in eastern WA. It may be good and it may be organic, but it isn't a WW onion. And the so-called Vidalia onions that I have bought here in CA don't taste like a fresh WW either. I'm looking forward to trying a real GA Vidalia now that my daughter has moved from WW to Atlanta.


Edited by Katie Meadow (log)

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Before anyone spends too much money on DOP tomatoes I'd encourage them to try 6in1 ground tomatoes. I love them and their a favorite on the pizzamaking forum as well. You can find them locally in some parts of the USA, not here in Colorado, I ordered them from the escalon.net web site and they charged me 3$ to ship me 12 28oz cans.

When I open a can I can't help but dig in with a spoon. Tried several DOP brands and they don't come close to my tastes, YMMV.

Larry

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Before anyone spends too much money on DOP tomatoes I'd encourage them to try 6in1 ground tomatoes. I love them and their a favorite on the pizzamaking forum as well. You can find them locally in some parts of the USA, not here in Colorado, I ordered them from the escalon.net web site and they charged me 3$ to ship me 12 28oz cans.

When I open a can I can't help but dig in with a spoon. Tried several DOP brands and they don't come close to my tastes, YMMV.

Larry

Larry would you put the can ingredients ,labeled on the can of 6 in 1 ground tomatoes ?

Thanks

Paul


Its good to have Morels

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Exactly, Norm. At that point, I'd also be challenging the tomato as an Italian plant, since it's an import.

Sure, the tomato was brought to Europe in the 16th century. And it didn't really gain favor in Italy until much later. But I think it's been long enough that we can stop calling it an import. So what if the tomato is an adopted child in the food culture of Italy? It's still family.

Right, plus there has been centuries of breeding, grafting and cultivars - plus the terroir claimed for the DOP. There's no need to be jingoistic about the tomato.

I wasn't being jingoistic about the tomato, I was merely pointing out, in my own (admittedly oblique) way that it's kind of silly to be worrying about country of origin for the ingredients. If I have perfectly good Chonto Santa Cruz heirloom paste tomatoes growing in my garden, I'm hardly going to go out and purchase a can of Italian DOP tomatoes (as has been discussed) simply to make the dish more authentic. That's silly, in my book. The Chontos, which I have been babying, are going to taste better, and that's my primary concern with any dish. Equally, I won't buy imported Mozza when I can get really excellent cheese made fresh this morning from the cheesemaker up the street.


Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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I agree that what tastes best should be the guide. I am on record many many times as caring less about authenticity than pretty much anyone. Likewise I have no problem going global for the best-tasting thing. Maybe some of you have done better than DOP San Marzano tomatoes. As far as canned, I don't think I've had better. I also don't think I've experienced fresh ones that perform as well as the DOP canned when you're talking specifically about pizza sauce. I do well with Pomi in the aseptic box but that's a fairly different flavor. I'd like to do a more structured tasting at some point.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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But do you think there are many ristorantes in Campania that would import oysters from Washington state, because they're perceived to be the best? I can throw a rock and hit an Italian restaurant on the Las Vegas strip that imports sardines or branzini. This I don't get.

Last time I checked, there weren't any local sardines to be had in Las Vegas....

Are you asking why these places have non-local foods on the menu? -That sardines should only be served within a certain radius of where they were caught?

IMO, they do it because sardines are a classic topping that some customers expect on a pizza. And, because they are available in shelf-stable tins which provide a consistent experience, the pizzaiolo provides them. This is in keeping with the Vegas tradition of providing certain customers whatever they want. Face it, seafood in general is big business in Vegas -a city in a landlocked state.

While I don't personally eat them, I don't see much of a difference between serving the sardines or the canned tomatoes. Each is the correct and best version of a food that has a place on traditional pizza. As has been pointed out before, if a food travels well, like parmigiano reggiano, Italians use it.

I also think there's a limit to the local foods movement. Most Americans wouldn't want to give up their coffees, spices, or chocolates anytime soon -and many simply do not live near much agriculture.

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I really liked making my own tomato sauce with San Marzano tomatoes, or at lest I thought I was buying the real thing . Anyway my problem was taking the seeds out.

Does anyone know of a San Marzano type, high quality which is deseeded? Or anyone have a real easy technique for deseeding? I like to make end up with about 8 quarts of sauce after simmering at a time so it would be a big help.

As I write this, I have my forearm across my eyes, I've taken to buying at Costco the three packs of Classico basil tomato sauce, adding paste, and doctoring up with seasoning.

Its does not taste bad but its a long way from when I did my own from scratch.

That's why I use the Cento passata...it is seedless, yet not watery like most chopped or crushed tomatoes.

Are there any other ingredients besides tomatoes? I just checked the Centro site and while the nutritional values are given I could not see ingredients.


Edited by Aloha Steve (log)

edited for grammar & spelling. I do it 95% of my posts so I'll state it here. :)

"I have never developed indigestion from eating my words."-- Winston Churchill

Talk doesn't cook rice. ~ Chinese Proverb

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But do you think there are many ristorantes in Campania that would import oysters from Washington state, because they're perceived to be the best? I can throw a rock and hit an Italian restaurant on the Las Vegas strip that imports sardines or branzini. This I don't get.

Last time I checked, there weren't any local sardines to be had in Las Vegas....

Are you asking why these places have non-local foods on the menu? -That sardines should only be served within a certain radius of where they were caught?

IMO, they do it because sardines are a classic topping that some customers expect on a pizza. And, because they are available in shelf-stable tins which provide a consistent experience, the pizzaiolo provides them. This is in keeping with the Vegas tradition of providing certain customers whatever they want. Face it, seafood in general is big business in Vegas -a city in a landlocked state.

I think you misunderstood. I'm not talking about importing canned anchovies to put on pizza.

I'm talking about flying fresh fish in from Italy to use in "hyper-realistic" Italian restaurants on the Las Vegas strip -- Mediterranean sea bass (branzini) for instance. To me, that flies in the face of the Italian tradition of sourcing local ingredients whenever possible. The closer the better. Surely striper could be substituted and save some Italian fish a trip on a 747 just so they can end up on a table at Rao's.

Same with the Vera Pizza Napoletana places in America. They are REQUIRED to import their flour. Otherwise, they lose their cool little VPN sign over the door. Flour! Our domestic millers are capable of making flour every bit as good as Italian 00. Why import it when our own wheat is so good?

My point is that we're happy to import the raw ingredients, but not the philosophy.


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Larry would you put the can ingredients ,labeled on the can of 6 in 1 ground tomatoes ?

The web site says "vine-ripened, unpeeled ground tomatoes, extra-heavy purée and a touch of salt." "Extra heavy puree" is a reduced tomato product, being very close to a "light paste."

I wasn't being jingoistic about the tomato, I was merely pointing out, in my own (admittedly oblique) way that it's kind of silly to be worrying about country of origin for the ingredients. If I have perfectly good Chonto Santa Cruz heirloom paste tomatoes growing in my garden, I'm hardly going to go out and purchase a can of Italian DOP tomatoes (as has been discussed) simply to make the dish more authentic. That's silly, in my book. The Chontos, which I have been babying, are going to taste better, and that's my primary concern with any dish. Equally, I won't buy imported Mozza when I can get really excellent cheese made fresh this morning from the cheesemaker up the street.

I don't think too many people would disagree with that. The question is whether or not your perfectly good Chonto Santa Cruz heirloom paste tomatoes are as good as San Marzano D.O.P. tomatoes, not necessarily whether they are more or less "authentic" (whatever that means).

For what it's worth, I would argue that any locally-made, high-quality, hand-made, never-refrigerated, super-fresh mozzarella will beat any imported mozzarella you could possibly buy. Age and refrigeration are the enemies of mozzarella. But, going back to the original premise of this thread: this caliber of mozzarella is unlikely to be inexpensive. Nor, after you figure in all the costs including time, are truly exceptional homegrown tomatoes necessarily all that inexpensive either.


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And that goes back to the point that I made waaay back in my first post in this thread - I live in Ecuador, where such things are quite a bit less expensive. I am particularly lucky to live on the site of the old Incan Royal Gardens and within 25 km of an active volcano, so I have insanely good soil to begin with. I also have the advantage of a 12-month growing season.

I have, point of fact, compared my Chontos to DOP San Marzanos, and the Chontos won hands down. I think freshness is the issue again, but also at stake is the manner in which the Chontos become sauce. I tend to lightly roast them whole over charcoal before using them to make paste, so there's a flavour there that's missing from the San Marzanos, which I can't really treat in the same manner due to their already processed nature.


Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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I think you misunderstood. I'm not talking about importing canned anchovies to put on pizza.

I'm talking about flying fresh fish in from Italy to use in "hyper-realistic" Italian restaurants on the Las Vegas strip -- Mediterranean sea bass (branzini) for instance. To me, that flies in the face of the Italian tradition of sourcing local ingredients whenever possible. The closer the better. Surely striper could be substituted and save some Italian fish a trip on a 747 just so they can end up on a table at Rao's.

Same with the Vera Pizza Napoletana places in America. They are REQUIRED to import their flour. Otherwise, they lose their cool little VPN sign over the door. Flour! Our domestic millers are capable of making flour every bit as good as Italian 00. Why import it when our own wheat is so good?

My point is that we're happy to import the raw ingredients, but not the philosophy.

I think you have a bit of a point here, but not one that is particularly germane to this topic. No one is talking about flying in branzino from the other side of the world to make pizza. There are a number of approaches one may adopt in trying to cook a traditional cuisine from another area of the world. One of them is to try to slavishly duplicate that cuisine to the greatest extent possible. Since most traditional cuisines are informed by the local indigenous ingredients, duplicating them this way involves sourcing those ingredients that one thinks are important in replicating the tastes of the original. Another way is to think about the philosophies of the cooking tradition you are emulating and apply it to the new locale. This has brought us things as disparate as Italian-American "red sauce cooking" and also restaurants like Mario Batali's Babbo. But, to be clear, making "Italian food" not in Italy is not within the Italian cooking philosophy. They, of course, just think of it as "food."

Personally, I find the idea of VPN certification a little silly. But the point of VPN certification is that you are trying to replicate the exact pizza you would get at a traditional pizzeria in Napoli. That means slavishly duplicating the actual ingredients used in Napoli to the greatest extent possible. There is no other way. It's not practicable to import the mozzarella because age and refrigeration will reduce the quality of the product. But flour and canned tomatoes can be imported, so the VPN people require it. Meanwhile, I don't know of any VPN-certified places in the US that are considered among the very best in town to get pizza. If you want to make Neapolitan-style pizza that doesn't have a special label on the menu saying that it's VPN-certified then you can use any old flour you want.


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I have, point of fact, compared my Chontos to DOP San Marzanos, and the Chontos won hands down. I think freshness is the issue again, but also at stake is the manner in which the Chontos become sauce. I tend to lightly roast them whole over charcoal before using them to make paste, so there's a flavour there that's missing from the San Marzanos, which I can't really treat in the same manner due to their already processed nature.

So then that's what you should use, of course. Especially if you like them better. But this is a pretty specific and personal thing you're talking about now. I daresay that few people have access to a year-round supply of home-grown heirloom tomatoes grown at high altitude in volcanic soil, and of course the smoky charred flavors you get from roasting your tomatoes over coals have more the nature of a personal preference, as does a preference for fresh over canned tomatoes.

I think part of the point made in this thread is that making a high quality pizza at home with the "usual ingredients" can be quite expensive. And for the majority of people this means using canned tomatoes. It strikes me as a bit of a cop-out to suggest that making a high quality pizza doesn't need to be expensive "if you just decide that pizza should be made with this other ingredient over here instead of the one you're using." Of course that's true. But it's a bit like saying "making really high quality sushi at home doesn't have to be expensive if only you use copper river salmon belly instead of bluefin o-toro, and anyway I prefer copper river salmon, and by the way I live in Alaska so I catch my salmon from the copper river for free."


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Personally, I find the idea of VPN certification a little silly. But the point of VPN certification is that you are trying to replicate the exact pizza you would get at a traditional pizzeria in Napoli. That means slavishly duplicating the actual ingredients used in Napoli to the greatest extent possible.

See, that's my problem. They're slavishly sourcing ingredients instead of slavishly devoting themselves to replicating the final product. Italian 00 flour that has sat in a shipping container across the Atlantic and then shipped by truck across America is inferior to flour we produce domestically.

I've eaten at a few VPNs and all of them are very well made, but I think the crust is lacking compared to what I get in Naples. I think it's because of the flour and that the ovens aren't old enough -- pizza cooked in a 150-year old oven that has baked millions of pies is going to taste different than pizza cooked in an oven that was built last year.


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Question for all of you who disdain the need to use ingredients from an ocean away. Where is your olive oil coming from? Italy? Spain? Tunisia? Argentina? California? Pluto? My Bulls**t detector went off when I read that the age of an oven or the number of pizza's produced, in that oven, influeneces the taste. I can see an experienced pizzaiolo being important.


"I drink to make other people interesting".

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W are takkin pizza in the middle of August when garden fresh tomatoes are everywhere for goodness sake. Who buys or even cares about canned tomatoes this time of year.... for a pizza no less???

I'd rather use local, fresh tomatoes when available over anything that comes in a can, no matter how "premium" the canned stuff is.

Granted, when I make pizza, I'm not going for gourmet, I'm going for what my kids like and will eat.


Cheryl

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Question for all of you who disdain the need to use ingredients from an ocean away. Where is your olive oil coming from? Italy? Spain? Tunisia? Argentina? California? Pluto? My Bulls**t detector went off when I read that the age of an oven or the number of pizza's produced, in that oven, influeneces the taste. I can see an experienced pizzaiolo being important.

The pizzas I get in Naples (and elsewhere in Italy) all seem to have more char on the bottom, which influences the taste. I am guessing that the build-up of tens of thousands of pizzas has something to do with that char. It tastes different than the the VPN pizzas. Since the VPN pizzerias are using Italian flour and baked in ovens imported from Italy using "correct Neapolitan methods," something has to account for the difference.

As for sourcing ingredients from the other side of the globe, I'm certainly not against it. Where else are we going to get saffron, porcini and parmesan? But for common ingredients that can be sourced locally (or at least far more locally) like flour -- what's the point of bringing it in from Italy? The clock starts ticking the second it's milled.

I've NEVER seen a baking recipe that starts, "take a sack of flour, and let it sit in a hot shipping container on a humid dock for a month or two."


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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I've NEVER seen a baking recipe that starts, "take a sack of flour, and let it sit in a hot shipping container on a humid dock for a month or two."

True to some extent (though I think there's a lot less of an argument for "local" when we're talking about things like flour or canned tomatoes, which are reasonably easy to ship and shelf-stable).

But for certain things, there just isn't much demand in the US. For those who aren't wholesale and having their own flour milled to specifications, there aren't that many truly "local" options. King Arthur and Giusto's make 00 style flour, but they're not carried in many markets, even those that carry KA flour, so you'd probably have to mail-order. If my math is right, Caputo 00 is around the same price anyway (and may actually be easier to get locally in many areas).

Italy's also got the history, terroir, and savoir-faire for making that style of flour. I haven't tried a back-to-back comparison of, say, Caputo to any of the American brands... if money were no object, I would probably base my decision on the final product rather than how local the flour is. I think the type of flour is really mostly related to whether you're trying to make Italian style pizza or American style pizza.

I will say that, while I've not tried their 00 flour, I've had really good results with Giusto's overall. Their organic pastry flour and their type 55 style flour are both excellent.

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Question for all of you who disdain the need to use ingredients from an ocean away. Where is your olive oil coming from? Italy? Spain? Tunisia? Argentina? California? Pluto? My Bulls**t detector went off when I read that the age of an oven or the number of pizza's produced, in that oven, influeneces the taste. I can see an experienced pizzaiolo being important.

Not disdain on my part; I simply don't see the logic in it. And my olive oil comes from Peru.


Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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