A true foodie might argue that any restaurant serving pizza should have a dedicated pizza oven. While this is a valid point, for some it might not go far enough. After all, pizza chain restaurants have dedicated pizza ovens, and their loose interpretation of traditional Italian pizza could cause seismic activity in Italy as everyone simultaneously turns in their grave. A professional pizza oven is no guarantee of authenticity or delicious flavour, but what about those restaurants that offer wood-fired pizza?
All Pizza Ovens Are Not Created Equal
It's easy to dismiss wood-fired pizza as something irrelevant or even pretentious. What difference does it make how the pizza is cooked? Surely heat is heat, and one type of pizza oven will deliver the same results as another? Far from it. The manner of cooking is what gives wood-fired pizza its distinctive, elevated flavour profile.
It starts with the wood, and any old kindling won't do the trick. Pizza ovens need a hard wood that can offer the necessarily high temperature for the pizza to cook to perfection. Hardwoods such as oak and maple are ideal, delivering the right type of combustibility, while also adding to the pizza's flavour profile. Just as the taste of wine can be influenced by the barrels it fermented in, the taste of wood fire pizza can be influenced by the wood in question. Any hints of oak or maple won't be overwhelming, but they're there — helping to give this type of pizza its textured flavour.
In addition to influencing the flavour of the pizza, the high temperature required to burn these varieties of wood results in favourable cooking conditions for the dish. The underside of the pizza will char ever so slightly, and this is deliberate. The taste of the toppings will integrate into the pizza during cooking, contrasting with the light charring of the base, which gives the pizza a light, smokey taste.
A wood-fired pizza has a unique taste that differs from anything that comes out of a pizza oven. Although a professional electric or gas pizza oven will certainly cook a pizza properly, a wood-fired oven arguably elevates the taste of pizza (which is no small feat, considering how darn good a pizza can taste). In short, if you believe that the only taste difference in pizza is dependent on what the toppings might be, it's time to try the unparalleled taste of pizza cooked in a wood fired oven.