They say to travel with your eyes wide open, in order to completely capture the wonderful world as it unfolds like a road map in front of you.
I would add to that: You should travel with your mouth wide open, so you get a taste of the area you are adventuring through.
Unless, of course, you happen to be motoring on a Motorino at the time, searching for the perfect pizza pie.
Those bugs stuck in your teeth tend to make a lousy pizza topping.
My journey of culinary contentment began on Main Street of the tiny town of Mt. Shasta, way up in northern California, some 15-years ago. It was there that I discovered a small bakery, with shelves brimming with beautifully baked loaves of bread. The proprietor explained that the secret of his creations was the wood-fired oven smack in the middle of his establishment.
I had never seen such a thing, but, as a wildland fire fighter with a possibly worrisome worship of the open flame, I knew at once that I must build such a structure.
But, probably not in the middle of the wife-person’s cherished 1906 farm house kitchen.
The owner of the Oven Bakery suggested I purchase a book entitled The Bread Builders, for a guide to constructing an oven and building the perfect loaf. All I would need were a “few bricks and a bit of mortar.”
That was some 15-years ago.
In the interim, wood-fired pizza purveyors have become as ubiquitous as craft beer brewpubs and farm-to-table restaurants. There are probably a dozen or so in the Sacramento area, alone. Apparently, I am not the only one fascinated by fire and the resultant amazing flavors it imparts on almost any kind of cooking.
And, in the last few years, it is not at all uncommon for individuals to place one of these ovens on their backyard patio, or inside as the centerpiece of their kitchen. So much so, that in certain crowded San Francisco Bay Area neighborhoods, they are being smoked out by them (but, probably more so from backyard smokers than efficient ovens with a good chimney).
Except, at our place, the only evidence of my interest has been a frayed, 15-year old book and a big fat pile of the best of intentions. When the wife-person would ask me to explain my lack of execution, I would say,
“Sorry, dear, I’ll get to it.”
But, as, Felix Unger once said, "Sorry doesn’t feed the Admiral’s cat."
Nor, does it feed the hunger for a hand-kneaded, delicious delicacy with the perfect cornicione crust, topped with a chunky sauce from San Marzano Italian tomatoes, a moderate amount of the quintessential Mozzarella di Bufala cheese, and a few leaves of fresh basil.
The cornicione crust refers to the sought-after puffy finish along the pizza margin, while the di Bufala cheese is the classic cheese made from the Italian water buffalo.
But, thanks to either the generosity of heart or the lack of patience for another 15-years of waiting, the wife-person gently suggested I go get the “guts” for a quality wood-fired oven, get off my foundation, and begin building.
It was about that period of time that Number Two Daughter introduced us to Mac Duff’s Public House, in South Lake Tahoe, where we thoroughly enjoyed what came out of their indoor, wood-fired oven; from the thoroughly tasty pizza crust, to an amazing truffle oil mac & cheese, to a fantastically flavored bread pudding for dessert, it was all good.
Their bar ain’t bad, either, assuming you like great beer and a good selection of whiskies.
I noticed a distinctive, stylistic letter “M” at the oven opening, and was told that the oven was from a company called Mugnaini.
After virtual minutes of language lessons on Italian, garnered primarily by watching vintage Sofia Loren movies while she was in her prime (and oh, what a beautiful, scantily clad Italian pin-up she was in her prime),
“…no dear, I’m watching masonry lessons on YouTube.”
I learned that Mugnaini is pronounced “Moog-and-innie,” or possibly, “Mug-a-yinie,” no wait, it’s “Moon-ya-ini,”…I think.
I guess it’s back to watching old Sofia Loren movies.
Long story even longer, after I over-researched the world of wood-fired ovens, as I am wont to do, I eventually purchased the belly of the beast, so to speak, in kit form from Mugnaini, and got to building.
For some portions of the project I proved to be highly qualified.
With impressive shovel manipulation—including the commensurate blisters—I was able to dig out a footing and deftly drive and dump the wheelbarrow around the corner (I don’t think my neighbor has noticed the newly formed, small mountain on his place yet. Or, maybe he has.
“No Mr. Reynolds, I don’t know where that ponderous pile of dirt might have come from.
Yes, I do, if fact, have a big hole in the ground over at our place.”
Then, thanks to the kindness of another neighbor, and those YouTube videos, I learned how to pile a bunch of cinderblocks, and then fill them with concrete.
Laying out the pieces of the pizza oven puzzle I began to wonder what in the hell I got myself into.
Finally, after countless hours of impassioned phone calls to the inexplicably patient staff at Mugnaini (namely, Reese) from a hapless do-it-yourself-er, wannabe builder…namely, me…I finally—almost—finished the construction.
(It’s only minus a few pieces of trim and a plaster finish.)
But, at least it was time to kick the tires (or, in this case, the massive monolith of cinderblocks, rebar, and concrete) and LIGHT THE FIRE!
After a prescribed burn schedule, just like the old days when I got to light hundreds of acres of brush and grass on fire (to benefit wildlife habitat)—and get paid for it—with the wife-person’s skilled preparation techniques, I got the first pie slid into the breach.
All 700 degrees of it.
After a mere 90-seconds at that blazing temperature, I could finally enjoy the fruits of my labor with a slice of my favorite fresh mushrooms, black olives, and Italian (what else) sausage pizza.
O.K., I ate the whole damn thing by myself, accompanied with a wonderful bottle of locally sourced, farm-to-my mouth red wine.
I wonder if my neighbor would mind if I parked an Italian water buffalo on his property.
"WildWaterBuffalo(Bubalus bubalis arnee)" by Djambalawa
I just have to find a YouTube video on how to milk one of these things.