Pizza Requires Culture

It’s worth taking the time to really enjoy this amazing recounting of an effort to duplicate the recipe for Patsy’s pizza. It’s great for a few reasons: Good food is always worth taking the time to explore, chronicles of geeky obsessiveness are what the web was created for, and of course the history of New York Pizza is a source of endless fascination.
The part that really got me, though, was how much of the quality of a pizza was determined by the yeast cultures used in the dough. Jeff covers this well:

There are lots of kinds of yeast in the air in your kitchen right now and one of them will set up shop eventually in your flour water and begin growing. What will it taste like? Well, it’s like setting a trap for an animal and waiting for dinner. It could be a pheasant. It could be a rat. You have no way of knowing. Do yourself a favor and skip this part and just buy or obtain a known high quality starter…

I’ve seen many bogus things about the use of starters. A classic is that you can start a wild culture by setting out some flour, water and baker’s yeast and the baker’s yeast will ‘attract’ other yeasts. This is alchemy. It’s like saying I put out dandelions and they attracted peaches. It makes no sense. Another myth is that you can get the same flavor out of packaged yeast as you can out of a sourdough culture if you handle it right. This is also alchemy. Can you get parsley to taste like thyme if you handle it right? These are distinct organism, like spices, that all have a different flavor. If you use a starter, and you should, then learn from Ed Wood.

Classic Sourdoughs
The Ed Wood that he refers to is Dr. Edward Wood, a pathologist who realized while working in Saudi Arabia that he wanted to master the history and variety of sourdough yeasts that people all over the world use to make dough. is the home for his book, a source for buying starter cultures, and a fascinating testament to his passion for a subject most would consider arcane.
I’ve been trying to master a good New York-style pizza at home for years. It’s been steadily improving, but still nowhere near the level of even the average brick-oven place in the city. So what did I take away from the recipe? The key to getting good results is understanding the importance of the variety of cultures available.
And naturally, I was going to send the link to Adam for Slice last night, but this morning it was already up on the site. That guy knows his stuff, too.