Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Seasonal sales and paying for quality (Pizza, Cost)

Though my first experience with thin-crust pizza was buying it from a Forno in Italy, at a time when I didn’t have the time or resources to make something so delicious for myself, I recognize – even more now that I make my own pizza – that their margin of profit was enormous.  The crust – mostly white flour with a bit of egg and salt – costs mere pennies per serving, and the toppings – sourced from local producers when possible – avoid most shipping and import fees.  The cheese and meat components contribute most to the cost, but as Cheese Shops (Formaggi) and Delis (Salumeria) are more plentiful in Italy than anywhere else in the world, even those costs were significantly less than in Canada.
In Canada, and specifically in Ontario, where I was born, good quality locally-made cheeses and meats are scarce.   In Niagara, Pingue’s Proscuitto (also known as Niagara Specialty Foods) is the only – and fortunately Ontario’s best – producer of cured meats.  Though the business is local, the Pingue brothers’ growing popularity and near monopoly allow them to charge high prices typically reserved for specialty imported products – starting at $5.90 and $8.90 per 100 grams for prosciutto and bresaola beef, respectively. That said, the meats produced by Pingue exude such flavour impact that less is required for substantial effect on a pizza.  The quality is certainly worth the cost, especially when given the opportunity to support skillful local artisans.
I find it more difficult to find quality cheeses made in Niagara.  Though there are few producers – the largest being Upper Canada Cheese, which carries only a limited selection of generally mediocre-quality cheeses – Niagara, with its growing wine and tourism industries, is certainly not short on cheese shops.  Most stores’ refrigerators are well-stocked with Quebec cheeses, specialties from Monteforte, a cheese maker outside of Stratford, Ontario, and a wide variety of cheeses from Europe.  Prices range from $3.00* to $20.00* per 100 grams, depending on age, name brand, and place of origin.  Good cheese shops allow clients to taste before buying, and I find that allows me to make better judgments on how much money I need to spend to get the right amount of sharpness or smoothness to compliment the rest of the toppings on the pizza.  Generally, the stronger the cheese, the less that is required, but the higher the price.  Mild or unripened cheeses can be less expensive, but more is required to stand up against more flavourful toppings.
Other than meat and cheese, the rest of the pizza toppings are inexpensive – especially when bought in season, on sale, at the market – like I tend to do.  One of my favourite Saturday activities is going to the local market and seeing what produce is most plentiful – and thus least expensive – that week.  Frequenting the market certainly has its benefits, as vendors are more likely to throw in extra items and give deals to the people they see returning week after week: repeat business is good business.
In total, homemade thin-crust pizzas cost between $0.50 and $3.00 per serving – a fraction of comparable quality restaurant pizza.  Frozen grocery store pizzas may be similar in cost, but are generally made within the bounds of what maximizes mass-production efficiency, cost-cutting and shelf life, rather than quality and connection to the environment.  The time cost, making the pizza from scratch, in my mind is worth every “penny.” 

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