Just two minutes. "That's all?" I ask. Michael Johnson assures me that, with a couple rotations, the pizza is done in only two minutes. The internal oven temperature is a sizzling 800+ degrees and the pizza crust is thin. It doesn't take more time than that.
I'm not sitting in restaurant waiting for my meal. Instead, it's lunchtime and I'm standing outside at the farmers market waiting for my pizza at a tent. This pizza may be served on a plate outside, but it rivals any in town.
For any Sacramentan living in midtown, there is often a debate over drinks - are you Masullo or Hot Italian? Yes, there may be other places doing thin crust, Italian style, wood fired pizza, but those are the two main camps in town. The Pizza Company, rolling its oven around behind a pickup truck, is as good, or better, than either of those.
Johnson has been pulling his oven around the Sacramento area for the last three years. His background includes graduating from the Culinary Institute of America 21 years ago (coincidentally with classmate Robert Masullo). Since that time he has worked in restaurants on the East Coast as well as in Napa and Sonoma. His history with pizza, though, is even older than that. Johnson started tossing pizza as a teenager, working in pizza parlors throughout high school and college.
Watching the flames lick the up the left side of the oven, I ask about the wood he uses. "I use almond wood because it burns long and hot and it is a sustainable resource," he explains. In California there are so many almond orchards that it is not difficult to find wood from old trees that have been pulled up to make room for new ones. "Almond wood also burns so completely that there is very little ash left," he says.
The oven itself was custom-made in Boulder, Colorado by the Fire Within. Johnson had it made after helping his friend start a similar business in the Bay area. That business grew so quickly that Johnson realized it might be great to do the same thing in Sacramento. "Pizza is recession proof," Johnson says. His oven was ready in the spring of 2010 in time for him to take advantage of the summer farmers market season. The oven is well insulated and retains a large amount of heat for hours, even days. "If I'm working for a several days in a row, I just need to throw a log onto the embers from the day before and soon I'll be up to temp again. If there's a day or so off, I might have to start the fire again from scratch and wait a few hours for the oven to reach the optimal 800-850 degrees."
Johnson takes the time with his dough. His organic flour comes from Central Milling in Petaluma, which supplies many other pizzerias throughout the state. The dough is made with a 00 fine grind flour that is high in protein. Johnson then uses a cold fermentation process which requires the dough to develop flavor and character over a couple of days. He makes the dough a couple of times a week so that there is always a batch at the right 'age' ready.
Most of the ingredients are organic as well, as costs allow. The produce usually comes right from the day's market that he is working at (schedule below). Along with the produce his toppings often include marscapone, prosciutto, pine nuts, and, of course, mozarella. Johnson's favorite pizza is his Market Pizza. "It actually changes all the time because the Market Pizza is determined by what we find from the farmers that morning." On one particular day the Market Pizza was topped with fresh heirloom tomatoes and basil. On another, with pears, gorgonzola, and balsamic.
Johnson says his business has almost doubled every year. Along with special events and the farmers markets, he does catering jobs as well. "Even in winter I can easily back the trailer up a driveway almost to the house and not worry about the rain," he says. It's the catering jobs that help sustain him through the winter after the farmers markets end their seasons. "Each year as my business grows the winter season gets busier and busier."
The Pizza Company
Tuesday: Market at 9th & P
Wednesday: Cesar Chavez Park
Thursday: Capitol Mall