Story behind Caliente’s award-winning Mee-Maw pizza
When Eric Von Hansen, the regional chef of Caliente Pizza and Draft House, flew to Parma, Italy, to compete in the World Pizza Championship, he took a radically different approach than his competitors.
While his American opponents brought their ingredients with them, Von Hansen decided to forage for his all over Italy.
The strategy paid off, and he ended up winning the Best Pizza in America title for his pan pizza made with locally sourced porchetta, rapini and cheese.
You won’t have to leave the Pittsburgh area to sample Von Hansen’s prize winning Mee-Maw pizza, named in honor of his grandmother, who emigrated from Italy. The Caliente Pizza & Draft House has made the Mee-Maw available at its locations in Aspinwall, Monroeville, Bloomfield, Hampton and Mt. Lebanon. The 12-cut pan pizza is $29.99, and only 25 Mee-Maws will be available each day at each location.
The foraging for Von Hansen began in Rome where he got the rapini. Then he went to San Gimignano and got truffle cheese and porchetta. Then it was on to Tuscany where he went truffle foraging in the mountains. And finally to Parma and to the plant where they make Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
“Winning was great but just being there against those competitors — most of them were Italian guys — it was a great experience, a good bonding experience. We had a blast,” said Von Hansen who went to Italy with Caliente owner Nick Bogacz. “Foraging everything was part of the fun.”
As he gathered his ingredients, Von Hansen had to use his imagination to prevent them from spoiling, keeping some on the marble window sill of his hotel room, and some in a cooler with ice that he took each morning from wherever they had breakfast.
“The best part was putting everything on the pizza,” said Von Hansen. “Most people do a red sauce. I didn’t want to do anything like add tomato sauce or garlic butter, I wanted the flavor of the rapini, the Parmigiano Reggiano, the porchetta all to really come out on the pizza. I wanted the natural flavors that I pillaged over the countryside in Italy to represent that pizza.”
Last week at the Caliente’s in Aspinwall, Von Hansen and Bogacz offered a peek at how they put together the award-winning pizza. The process began with Von Hansen kneading the pizza dough and creating dimples in it which helps the dough rise and seals in the flavor of the olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano.
“The dough has to be right for it all to work,” said Von Hansen. “That’s the most important part. We make dough four or five times a day, every day.”
He spread locally-sourced greens flavored with crushed plum tomatoes, peppered bacon, salt, pepper and garlic. Then he added the shaved porchetta and the cheese and olive oil. He bounced around the kitchen as he added ingredients.
“I put my heart and soul into this. I love what I do,” said Von Hansen as he put the pan pizza into the Middleby Marshall Wow! Oven, a conveyor cooker.
After he pulled the pizza out of the oven, Von Hansen drizzled it with more olive oil and sprinkled grated cheese on top.
Von Hansen and Bogacz sat down to try a slice. Despite being surrounded by pizza all day, they never tire of a slice fresh from the oven.
“It never gets old,” said Von Hansen.
Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].