Posts Tagged ‘best pizza blog’

Guanciale; The Chuck Norris of Pizza Toppings

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Pizza is Americas food, that’s a fact. On the thousands of pies my business makes each year, a massive portion of my customers have chosen bacon as a topping. The word itself sends middle-aged, pre-heart-attack victims like myself into a frenzy because the thought of that smoky, melting fat atop a slippery glacier of melting mozzarella is the stuff of dreams. It is hard to mimic or turn anyone away from the thought of crunchy, porcine goodness but there is another, more silky alternative to that streaky belly fat: Enter Guanciale; the jowl or cheek cut from the face of the pig!


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Above is some awesome Red Wattle, (heritage breed pork) guanciale that I cured with a long crisp Spanish syle Coca crust, Teleggio (an Italian Alpine cheese)  roasted celery root, fresh basil and killer Bosc pears grown by Neal Cherry in Crooksville, Ohio that I have citrus-pickled.


Because of my inherent shallowness, I interpret the relationship of smoked pork belly fat vs. unsmoked pork facial fat as that of Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris. Bruce was the king of Kung Fu and, just like bacon, he was my hero when I gazed upon him kicking the shit out of bad guys on Green Hornet. Chuck was another bad ass (after Bruce had broken the martial arts-as-entertainment barrier) that transformed his talent in that memorable movie, Good Guys Wear Black. Both of these guys amazed and rocked my world just like bacon and jowl, unfortunately, Bruce is gone but Chuck Norris can split the atom with his bare hands! So lets make some guanciale!


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First, let’s start with a pork cheek from your local butcher or pig farmer. An excellent butcher can give you a skin-on cut that extends from the cheek down to shoulder, (like above, which I love). I trim any and all glands I find. They are soft, greyish and are easily distinguishable from fat like the cut above with a gland in the middle of the jowl. I also cut the cheek in two to help with the cure but I always leave the skin on. The pork “cheek meat” or oyster may still be left on the face. It is a roundish hunk of flesh that most butchers cut off to expedite the curing process but if you are lucky enough to have this wonderful piece on, just leave it.




To cure the guanciale, take a cup of course sea salt and vigorously rub the meat all over. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and then in a large plastic bag without any air in it. Refrigerate for two days. Many people say to weigh the jowl down but I leave it alone because I don’t need a uniform piece of jowl. Just a thick slice of that porky goodness that will melt on a pizza.

After the two days, re-rub the jowl. You may have some juices to get rid of also. Re-wrap and set in refrigerator for one or two more days, depending upon how salty you want the jowl.


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On the last day, rinse all the salt off and dry the jowl completely. I like to immerse the jowl in a baggy of white wine for an hour before drying again, (I like what the fruit does to the fat) then I rub like a madman with cracked peppercorns, roasted fennel seeds, roasted cumin seeds and rosemary that has been whipped up in my spice blender. (This is where puristas and me part company.) Because I am melting this flesh on a pizza, I want as much nuanced flavor to come out of this fat as possible, so I give a great shiatsu massage to this pork with strong spice and less salt. Yum.


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There are many ways to hang your cheek in the drying chamber. The best chamber to use is a white wine cooler that you can buy for under $300 clams. Just set the temperature for 55-60  and place a bowl of salted water at the bottom because your curing will need some moisture. The fan on these wine cabinets offers enough airflow to complete a good cure. (Optimum cure temperature is between 55 and 65 degrees with a humidity of 70 percent.) The first way is to wrap in a double layer of cheesecloth and tie with twine this will keep any herbs and spices in place but still able to breathe. The other way is to wrap the cheek in the herbs and use plastic wrap to force the spices and herbs in place then unwrap the plastic and remove before tying. Both of these have worked for me.


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Tie the guanciale up for four to five weeks or until it loses 30 percent of their bulk.


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I’m tellin’ you… on that day that you go to your chamber and remove the guanciale, it’ll feel like your birthday. After wiping off some or all of the spice, get a sharp knife and cut the skin off. Any mold that is white is okay, any other mold is a concern. If you encounter any mold, wipe with vinegar until it comes off.


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Then place the thin slice on your tongue and wait for the gorgeous melt to happen. Man oh man, if Chuck Norris wasn’t so fucking weird now, you’d be tempted to invite him over for some guanciale and a bowl full of nails.

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Above left is a Pizza Romana baked at 700 degrees with caramelized shallots, chevre, beets and local cheddar curd or for another magnificent flavor profile, above right is a knotted Turkish Pide with fresh local blackberries atop guanciale, aged mozzarella, provolone, fresh spinach and topped off with maple syrup.

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Or, if you have the guts, you can make a killer schiacciata with Stilton, walnuts and pear with that crisp melting guanciale taking it’s final bow for now!





Pizza Paul Nyland; Best in the Business

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There I stood in white-hot Ohio sun in my parking lot shaking hands with guy I didn’t even know. It was 2003 and I had been in the pizza business for three years and I really didn’t have time for this. Gordon Food Service had told me they were gonna send a consultant this day but I told them I didn’t need anyone telling me how to run my business. I had forgotten the date and they evidently sent him anyway.

“So Johnny, my name is Paul and pizza is my business, that’s why they call me Pizza Paul.” he said happily as he handed me his Gordon Food Service card that indeed said, ‘Pizza Paul Nyland’ written in large letters on it. “I’m just doing the rounds and would like to show you how to boost the revenue in this fine place.”

“I’m really not inter…” I said abruptly looking away.

“Okay John, let me ask you one thing and I’ll leave.” Paul said holding his palms up in surrender.

“Okay, shoot.”

“Have you ever tried calzones? They are a great revenue generator because they are so good. I can show you how to…”

“Sorry Paul, I’ve been in the restaurant busin…”

“Lemme ask you another thing, Paul said as he reached in his car and pulled a case of cheese off the seat. “How many other pizza places have calzones around here?” He shoved the case in my chest and walked to the front door of my pizzeria.

“Well, I don’t think any…”

“See, you’ll be the first to make calzones if you just let me show you…” he said opening the door and entering. I stood and rolled my eyes in frustration, this guy was not taking the hint to hit the road and he was literally busting into my store. When I stepped into my lobby Paul stepped uncomfortably close and whispered. “Johnny, tell me, who was the first President?”

“George Washington.”

“HA! See everybody knows that! Now, who was the second?” Paul said smiling like he just stole a million dollars.

“John Adams.” Paul’s smile melted in disappointment and he fidgeted.

“Okay John, then who was the third?”

“Thomas Jefferson.” Paul swung around and said, “Nice place you got here, okay who was the fifth President of these United States?”

“Uh, I can’t recall right now.” I said honestly.

“BINGO,” Paul screamed. ” You see Johnny!” Everyone remembers the first person to do something but never the second. THATS WHY YOU NEED TO DO CALZONES!” he pointed to the sky like a preacher which made me smile.

“But…” Paul didn’t give me time to finish.

“This case of cheese if for you my man!” Paul pointed to it. “It’s a new blend from your friends at Gordon Food Service! Now lets make calzones!” he said like a  General as he walked into my kitchen and instantly introduced himself to my young staff!

That day, Pizza Paul Nyland not only changed my menu, he changed the way I looked at Pizza and I made a friend for life! I’ll never forget that first calzone he made a blend of mozzarella and provolone, canned mushrooms and pepperoni. The combination of his enthusiasm and the luscious, fatty and messy way the calzones tasted was irresistible. Paul stuck his mug into each of our faces saying, “Best thing you ever had, huh? huh? huh? as the crisp dough slathered with garlic butter and copious amounts of Parmesan cheese disappeared. As my staff wiped the grease from their chins and slapped Paul on the back, I knew I was hooked on calzones.

Now, over eleven years later, every one of the 81 pizzas I have on my menu can be made into calzones and every year  I saw Pizza Paul at the pizza conventions I would fill him in on my new calzone variants like stuffed ciabatta and stuffed fougasse. I don’t think I ever saw him without a smile on his face and he was never condescending or judgmental, always looking at the bright things in life!

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In 2004, my Manager, Brynne Humpreys accepted the award for Best Gourmet Pizza from Pizza Paul at the NAPICS show in Columbus. (With Big Dave Ostrander, on the left.)

Paul and guys like him are a huge reason why I just love the business of pizza so much. It’s such a small fraternity of dedicated and fanatical obsessives with only one thing in mind- the craftsmanship and love of pizza!

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Pizza Paul was a tough judge a World Pizza Games at the International Pizza Expo hosted by Pizza Today Magazine last year. Talented Pat Miller of Slice of New York is on right.

With Pauls’ passing, I figure we all try to surround ourselves with people we love and understand. But there are others on the periphery of our lives who’s orbits and interests intersect with ours only once or twice a year creating a bond of commonality that only strengthens with each meeting. As the years zing by, we all get older, smarter and more reflective about our relationships and we start to look forward to seeing those people who have influenced our lives and made us smile so much. After all, it’s not the amount of time that makes a friendship, it’s the intensity, honesty and happiness a real friend brings.

Thank you Pizza Paul Nyland! You were one-of-a-kind.        (Oh, by the way, the fifth President was James Monroe!)