Prior to World War II most European villagers relied largely on a single communal wood-fired oven to cook their daily meals, rotating different types of food throughout the day.
Once the war had ended, more than lives and landmarks were lost. Many of the communal ovens were also destroyed, leaving villagers with no way to prepare meals.
Sylvio Valoriani, the Henry Ford of pizza ovens, was commissioned by the Italian government to solve the oven crisis. His solution: a smaller, more affordable version of the communal oven that quickly became the center of nearly every home.
Just as wood-fired ovens became the heart and soul of traditional Italian homes in the mid 1900s, the Valoriani brand oven has become the heart and soul of one of the privately owned pizzerias in town, the Tuscan Oven.
While Valoriani is best known for his smaller ovens, the Tuscan oven houses the Prima 120 model, which is one of the largest models made by Valoriani.
Ted Lamarche, owner of the Tuscan Oven, says that four large pizzas, six mediums, or 10 smalls can fit in the oven together.
While most commercial ovens found at the local Domino’s or Cici’s fire up with a push of a button, Simply flipping the on switch doesn’t work for Lamarche’s oven.
The oven runs entirely off of wood, and getting the fire started is just the first obstacle of the day. Employees throw a stack of wood in the back of the oven and use lighters and paper to get it lit.
“In order to get the oven’s full capacity, it takes at least an hour to heat up,” said manager Milany Russell. “If the wood isn’t cured enough or if the wood is wet it could take longer.”
Once the fire is finally roaring, workers must continuously throw logs into the oven; otherwise the fire could go out. On average, the restaurant uses 25-35 logs a day.
The fire from the logs warms the oven’s brick floor to cook the bottom of the pizzas, while a convective flow of heat created by the oven’s shape bakes the top and center of the restaurant’s masterpieces.
Lemarche says that the oven is supposed reach as high as 500 degrees, but he’s convinced that it heats up much higher.
After the oven is lit, the dough is stretched and toppings are piled, pizzas are placed into the oven.
Evenly cooked pizzas are guaranteed by commercial ovens, as pizzas are thrown on a conveyer belt that runs through a tunnel of heating elements, but creating an evenly cooked pizza in a wood-fired oven requires a little more time and a lot more concentration.
“Pizzas are rotated manually with a keel so pizzas cook evenly,” said pizza cook Casey Coco. “If they aren’t rotated, the sides of the pizza closest to the fire would burn and the sides facing away from the fire would stay raw.”
After about 10 minutes by the fire, pizza are cut and sent to tables.
Tony Staples, who dines at the Tuscan Oven at least once a week, said that “the pizza here is superior to anything anywhere else in town. I can only attribute it to the real oven and all the natural ingredients.”