I was very lucky to have a winning pizza this year in the non-traditional pizza competition at the International Pizza Expo. I placed First in the Midwest, then advanced to Third in the World. The judges chose me as one of the top pizza makers, and I was proud to have some of the best pizza professionals in the world taste and judge my creation.
And to think it all started with a text from my wife: “John, there is a small DEAD PIG in a box at the front door…?”
My pig had arrived. I wanted to get a locally obtained “mini-maiale,” but the pig farmers around here would only bring me live ones to dispatch. Thinking that this activity would not bode well with my kids’ emotional stability in the future, I ordered a dead one from the Internet.
My Schiacciata con Maiale di Latte, or roast suckling pig on a long, thick pizza was a great learning experience. It was a long process to butcher and cook this pig. I made it all the more complicated by cooking the pork legs (hams), belly (pancetta and bacon) and cheek (guanciale) by sous vide. This entailed cooking a vacuum-sealed bag of the meat along with herbs, garlic — and in the case of the belly and hams, salt — in a long, slow water bath at 146 degrees until the meat was ultra tender.
But first I had to butcher Charlotte…I mean the pig. Let’s hope I don’t butcher this attempt. If you are squeamish, or have kids around, don’t watch this video on how your pork chops get into those slick flat plastic trays. If you are a professional butcher, this will have you rolling around in painful laughter.
After breaking down this pig, I took the shoulder, rack and loin and roasted them alla Sardinia, where they slow roast the suckling pig (porcheddu) over oak coals covered with myrtle. I used rosemary, bay and an oak plank on my gas grill fitted with a rottiserie. I added a beautiful chunk of smoky wild boar bacon to lard the meat with, a great choice as this crisped the skin up beautifully.
For the legs, I wanted to mimick the wonderful salty goodness of a Virginia ham. I coated the hams in sea salt, garlic and rosemary, sealed them and set them in water at 146 degrees for 4 hours. I did the cheek and belly the same way, but for only an hour, because they were thinner than the ham.
Now I needed some advice on cheese for this large pizza, so who else could I call but my friend Matt Rapposelli, the Executive Chef at Ohio University. He recommended Cacao di Roma and pecorino. (Great call, Matt.) I had always heard that Bellweather Farms in Sonoma had fabulous sheep’s milk ricotta, so I contacted them, and the owner, Liam Callahan made some for me. Whatta great guy!
I knew I was going to make a great pie because I had my General Manager Joel Fair with me. This guy makes hundreds of pizzas each day and is the perfect sous chef. He stuffed some sweet pepper ends with Pecorino Tuscano with chili pepper flakes, for the top of the pizza.
Two great guys, Matt Rapposelli, Executive Chef of Ohio University and Joel Fair, General Manager of Avalanche Pizza. I met lots of really cool people at the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, like Michael Della Monica and his wife, from Long Island Style Pizzeria. Their shamrock pizza was perfect for a St. Patrick’s Day.
Now I had to choose a perfect vegetable to pair with the pork. I decided on Peperoni Mandorloti from the Basilicata region of Italy. Roasted sweet bell peppers are sauteed with vinegar, sugar, almonds and raisins. I also used a little French roasted almond oil for effect.