Pizza is my second favorite food. One reason for the favoritism lies in my belief that a good crust is a great medium on which my absolute favorite food – melty, stretchy, gooey cheese – can regularly hitch a ride to the dinner table.

My go-to pizza dough for over 20 years is made according to a recipe in the 1997 edition of Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook.” I’ve employed this recipe so often, the cookbook willingly falls open to oil-spattered page 53, where Julia extols “Rosemary’s Classic Pizza Dough” as one of the best white-flour dough formulas for a crisp but tender crust. Rosemary Mannell was a behind-the-scenes culinary colleague of Child’s who made the star’s final dishes camera-ready in most episodes of her television series. She was also a pizza queen, according to the recipe’s head note.

I completely agree Rosemary’s is an excellent dough. It has a flexible rise to fit a busy cook’s schedule. It holds its stretch well, making a thin crust a manageable prospect at home. And it reliably crisps up in a hot oven kitted out with a pizza stone in seven minutes flat. What it is not, though, is a dough with a mission.

Flight Deck Brewing are among the spots where you can find pizza built on The Good Crust Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

I have recently found a local pizza dough that does have a mission. Two, in fact. The Good Crust, founded by Heather Kerner, an experienced home baker and an occupational therapist by training; and twin sister to Amber Lambke, a locally grown grain evangelist and CEO of Maine Grains in Skowhegan. Kerner’s nine-month-old company makes dough using only flours stone-milled from grains grown in Maine and produced and packed by workers with physical and cognitive challenges. The company wholesales its 16-ounce frozen dough balls to Maine restaurants like The Miller’s Table in Skowhegan; local breweries that have invested in portable pizza ovens, like Flight Deck in Brunswick; and retail locations like Rosemont Market, which has locations throughout Greater Portland.

Incubated in a commercial kitchen space on Main Street in Skowhegan with the help of business development grants, the company has found early success. Kerner credits that, and its potential product growth, to about six months of research, development and testing of the dough recipe with help from chefs at The Miller’s Table; baker Matt DuBois of the Bankery; and Eric LeVine, the former pizzaiolo at Bigelow Brewing. “There is really no secret sauce other than it is a delicate blend of whole grain local flours from the mill,” Kerner said.

Kerner has participated in entrepreneurial courses offered by the CEI Women’s Business Center and the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs’ Top Gun business development course. Her work in the latter program earned the company a $5,000 prize to help her fund a new facility with increased freezer capacity in Canaan.

The company has six part-time employees, most of whom have come to their jobs through state-funded, pre-employment apprentice programs. As an occupational therapist working part-time within the Messalonskee school district, Kerner knows well how manual jobs can be tailored to suit a specialized workforce. Those tools include work-based learning experiences, tailored visual supports and shortened work schedules. Kerner works with individual apprentices to reach goals they set for themselves. For example, one apprentice wants to acquire the necessary skills to eventually operate a UPS delivery truck, so she is considering how his skills safely fit into The Good Crust’s delivery operations. A state-funded program pays the wages for the apprentices through a 40-hour training program. If the employee chooses to stay on, Kerner’s company continues to pay them as an employee.

The dough is sold frozen. For home cooks, Kerner recommends thawing it overnight in the refrigerator and then letting it come to room temperature for 30 minutes before rolling it out. “That slower defrosting process gives the dough that long fermentation flavor profile that only adds to the finished pizza,” Kerner said.

As for cooking it, she recommends a pizza stone preheated in an oven cranked as hot as it will go. Given the heat of the summer, she suggests using a grill, also set on high. There, she suggests laying the naked, rolled dough on the grates to cook for 1-2 minutes before flipping it and placing the toppings on the partially cooked surface. To finish cooking, cover the grill, and lower the heat so that the toppings melt and meld, but the crust doesn’t burn on the bottom.

Benedict Cassie, whose job title at Flight Deck Brewery is Pizza Connoisseur, likens gluten, and the elasticity it allows, in any pizza dough to patience in a human. “Some doughs, like some people, don’t like to have their patience tested. You try to stretch them even slightly and they snap. The Good Dough is a very patient dough. You can easily stretch it while you’re working with it and it’s chewy by design,” Cassie said.

I’ve tasted The Good Crust as prepared by Cassie, and I’m pleased to say that it is a formidable competitor to Rosemary’s Classic Pizza Dough. Plus, it makes it easier for me to support both Maine grain farmers and a diversified Maine workforce.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, 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]

Flight Deck Brewing pizza, baked on a crust from The Good Crust. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

Lobster Scampi Pizza

This recipe, from The Good Crust founder Heather Kerner, supports local workers, local grain-growers and millers, and local fishermen.

Makes 1 (16-inch) pizza
1 (16-ounce) ball The Good Crust dough
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces cooked lobster meat, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt
Black pepper
1½ cups shredded provolone and mozzarella mix
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven fitted with a pizza stone to 500 degrees. As the oven heats, bring the thawed dough to room temperature.

Warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until it is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the butter. When the butter is melted, add the lobster and lemon juice. Stir to combine, season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

Roll out the dough to a 16-inch round and place on a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal. Tip the pan slightly so the fat slides to one corner, then use a brush to spread some of the oil/butter mixture around the perimeter of the crust to help it brown. Spread the lobster mixture evenly over the top of the crust and then sprinkle the cheese over the lobster. Slide the pizza into the oven and cook until the crust is browned on the edges and the cheese is bubbling and starting to turn golden brown, about 7-8 minutes. Remove the pizza from the oven, sprinkle with the parsley and serve.


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