First, let me say one thing...
Wisconsin cheese is better than Italian cheese.
You heard me.
And I can say with confidence that my garden-fresh toppings, my meats (mmm sausage), and my tomatoes are as good or better than any I had in Italy. But for all that is holy in this world, I had a heck of a time finding an Italian-style crust made in the U.S. that could compete with Italy. Which you heard about here.
I wanted to know why.
It all comes down to the ingredients; specifically flour.
The composition of wheat grown in Italy is different from much of the wheat grown in the U.S. because their soil is different. The mountainous limestone regions have fostered a more alkaline soil for the soft wheat varieties. The U.S. tends to grow a hard red wheat with a higher protein content, while Italy grows the soft wheat types. But not all Italian flours are low in protein.
In Italy, flour is graded by how finely it’s ground and how much of the wheat bran and germ have been removed. “00” is the most finely ground and refined. It’s a velvety powder with varying levels of protein, but generally it’s middle of the road around 12.5% protein.
The refinement of soft wheat 00 flour removes trace shards of the wheat bran. In pizza dough, bran in flour can tear the strands of gluten which destroys elasticity. And in the pizza world we require elasticity like a pregnant woman shopping for maternity pants.
In Wisconsin, and most of the US, we grade our flours on protein content. More protein = more gluten. Bread flour has around 15-16% protein, and cake flour has about 8%.
Germany and France grade their flour by ash content. This has no relevance here, but if you’re actually reading this you’re probably the type of person who’d find that interesting.
Why Italian Pizza Crust Tastes So Damn Good
The superfine texture of 00 flour, combined with the mid-level protein content, creates the ideal environment for a pizza crust that is toothsome, crisp, tender, and able to produce the bubbles and delicious blisters common with wood-fired pizza
Because of the extreme fineness of the Italian 00 flour, it doesn’t require as much water to begin kneading. And because of the decent amount of protein it doesn’t take long to create the gluten structure required for that characteristic Italian crust.
You need a decent amount of protein so that when kneaded, the proteins bind to one another making this interconnected web of gluten. A little salt, oil, and yeast work with this web to create a flavor and aroma that we just can’t beat.
Some small millers throughout the U.S. are attempting to produce their own ultra-fine pizza flours. Eventually someone here will figure it out. What a wonderful day that will be.