I credit Pat Pohlman’s Friday pizza nights for drawing my young family into our new hometown in Central Pennsylvania in the fall of 2000. She made bottomless bowls of dough. Harry, Pat’s husband, kept a Kegerator of local beer in the basement. Guests brought their favorite toppings. Pat pumped pie after pie out of her small kitchen. Conversation flowed as freely as the pizza did. As easily as Baggins the basset hound scarfed up scraps, we collected a solid friend group by Christmas.

Columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige practices her pizza-spinning technique. Does the local spelt flour in the dough improve her toss? Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

I took Pat’s party format and her dough recipe (it’s the one called Rosemary’s Classic Pizza Dough in Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook”) with me when we moved first to England, and then to Maine. Hands-down they are the top community-building tools in my culinary arsenal. I can count on one hand the number of neighbors who’ve turned down an invitation for cold beer and hot pizza on a Friday night.

After 15 years of working with this dough I know how it is supposed to feel; when it will rise; how it stretches to fit perfectly on my peel; and which oven conditions combine to crisp it up nicely. This perfect relationship with my pizza dough, several Maine pizza experts tell me, positions me nicely to switch up the formula to include flours milled from grains grown locally. Including local wheat, spelt, corn and even rye flours in my dough will not only enhance the flavor of my pizza, it will help keep the burgeoning Maine grain industry on its upward trajectory.

An assortment of local flours. OO, on the far left, is how Italians refer to the grind of flour; Italians often use OO to make pasta.

The number of acres of grain grown in Maine has quintupled and the market for flours milled from those grains has increased tenfold in the last 10 years and spans all of New England and into New York, says Tristan Noyes, executive director of the Maine Grain Alliance.

Just ask yourself: Why does pizza taste so good in Italy?” said farmer, miller and baker Sara Williams Flewelling, who with her father co-owns Aurora Mills and Farm, a producer of certified organic buckwheat, oats, wheat, rye and spelt in Houlton. These cereal crops are rotated with soy, pea and clover to help promote long-term soil health and sustainability of the farm.

“It’s because everything that goes into an Italian pizza is so fresh! The cheese, the herbs, the tomatoes. And yes, the flour in the dough. Why wouldn’t you want to see how Maine flour plays into your pizza dough if you’re making pizza dough in Maine?” Flewelling asked.

Monte’s Fine Foods owner Steve Quattrucci can draw a straight line between the pies he serves in his establishment on Washington Street in Portland and traditional Roman pinsa. In Roman times, people took a mixture of water and grains and formed it into a flatbread before cooking it on hot ashes and a stone. While pizza dough requires mostly wheat flour, a bit of water, and a lot of salt, pinsa dough typically uses a wheat/soy/rice flour mix, more water and less salt, creating a lighter, airier crust.

After traveling to Rome to attend a pinsa workshop, Quattrucci spent a year researching the right balance of flours for his dough. He settled on a combination of King Arthur’s Sir Lancelot bread flour, rice flour and Maine Grains spelt flour. The formula seems to be working, as he’s sold over 20,000 pies since opening Monte’s last July. He buys 100 pounds of Maine Grains spelt flour weekly. On the retail side of the house, Quattrucci sells 5-pound bags of Maine Grain spelt and rye flours, among others, when they are available.

“By no means am I saying you should go 100 percent Maine whole wheat flour for pizza,” Flewelling said. But adding a portion will add flavor to the dough and forward motion to the Maine grain industry.

Flewelling, who has been perfecting her pizza dough recipe for 15 years and has a wood-fired oven on the farm to cook it in, says she notices no structural change when she replaces 10 percent of the white flour with her farm’s whole wheat flour, and has enjoyed heartier pies that had a 50 percent share. “But the sweet spot is when you replace just about 30 percent … Then you get a really crisp crust on the bottom and those great, chewy bubbles throughout,” said Flewelling. She added that throwing in a little rye flour adds a nice depth of flavor. Since whole wheat flours absorb more liquid than white flours, she said, pizza makers may need to add more water to the dough to get the right feel.

The Uproot Pie Co. owner Jessica Shepard bakes about 10,000 pizzas per season in her mobile wood-fired pizza oven, which she takes to Maine farmers markets, Oyster River Winery and private events. She uses 85 percent white flour, 12 percent whole wheat and 3 percent cornmeal in her dough. The whole wheat gives the dough a slightly nutty flavor and the cornmeal adds texture, she said; both are from Maine Grains.

The Bankery, an artisan bakery located in an old bank building in Skowhegan, provides about 350 pies’ worth of pizza dough to The Miller’s Table and 500 pies’ worth to neighbor Bigelow Brewing Company per week during the high season. Bankery owner Matt DuBois is admittedly nerdy about the added bran at play in his dough, which uses 25 percent whole wheat flour. “Those little shards of bran add flavor and texture, sure. But they also act like little knives, cutting the gluten strands you need to make pizza dough stretch,” DuBois explains.

To counter the bran, add an autolyze, a fancy bakers’ term for a resting period. First, combine the flours, leavening agents and water your recipe calls for in a bowl and mix everything together until no dry flour remains. Cover the bowl and leave it in a warm place for 20 minutes. It will appear as though nothing is happening; in fact, gluten development begins and simple sugars start to form as the starch is broken down – transactions that will make your dough smoother and more elastic as you knead it.

Each of the experts I interviewed recommended a slightly different percentage of Maine grain flour for your pizza dough. But they all agreed that a long ferment (between 24 and 72 hours) will draw out the most flavor from these local flours. So plan ahead: Instead of putting your kneaded dough in a warm place to rise rapidly in two hours, let your pizza dough ferment and rise in the refrigerator over a couple of days. Your pizza will be worth the wait.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Lightly sprinkle the pizza dough with flour (local flour, naturellement) before you roll it out. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Rosemary’s Classic Pizza Dough Visits Maine

I’ve long loved this recipe because it proofs the yeast beforehand so I know it’s going to rise; it uses a food processor to do most of the work but lets me knead a bit so I feel less like a bread-baking fraud; and it has built-in resting times that allow me to clean as I go. I’ve adapted the recipe Julia Child originally published in “The Way to Cook” to accommodate whole grain flours milled in Maine.

Makes 3 (14-inch) pizzas

1 package active dry yeast (2¼ teaspoons)

1/2 cup tepid water (not over 110 degrees F)

1/8 teaspoon sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour (measure by scooping and leveling)

1 cup local spelt flour

2 tablespoons local rye flour

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

3/4 cup cold milk, plus more, if needed

2 tablespoons olive oil

Whisk the yeast, water and sugar in a measuring cup and let sit for 5 minutes to make sure the yeast is active and forms a foamy head. Place the flours and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Blend the 3/4 cup of milk and oil into the proofed yeast mixture. Pour the wet ingredients into the processor and pulse until they are just combined. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes.

After  20 minutes, pulse the dough until it forms into a ball. Then turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead 50 strokes by hand, give it a 2-minute rest, and knead 20 more strokes more to make a soft, smooth dough. Place in an oiled bowl. Cover and place dough in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. It will double in bulk.

Bring the dough to room temperature. Turn it out onto the work surface. Cut and shape it into three balls. Cover loosely and let rest 10 minutes before rolling out each dough to make pizza. I roll my pizza dough very thinly to 14-inch rounds, which typically cook in 7-8 minutes in a 500-degree oven.


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