The cutting edge of menu innovation: Pizza

Photograph: Shutterstock

Where in the culinary world is the most innovation happening? Our response is with the no. 1 comfort food: pizza. New twists on the pizza platform offer a blank canvas for many chefs.

If there’s any doubt, join the 9,000 pizzaioli and pizza industry influencers gathering in Las Vegas, March 4-7, for the 2019 Pizza Expo, where there’s widespread recognition of the industry as a hotbed of new ideas—with fresh approaches and trend-leading experimentation.  

From crusts and sauces to cheeses and toppings, pizza chefs and operators are analyzing changing consumer preferences and translating them into new offers that continue to set the pizza industry as the standard for cutting edge menus. At the Pizza Expo and across the industry, pizza innovation is on everybody’s lips—figuratively and literally.

To inspire this entrepreneurial spirit, the California Milk Advisory Board launched a contest seeking the most innovative pizza recipes from across the United States from professional chefs and accredited culinary students. By contest design, the central focus of the recipes is to showcase cheeses made with Real California Milk. The Real California Pizza Contest wants the ultimate pizza recipes in three categories—All Cheese; Mexican-Style; and a wild card category called The REAL California, which encourages chefs to design the flavor that defines the Golden State.

Innovation starts from the crust up. Here are a few examples of the changing pizza landscape:

Crusts. New flour choices, house-milling, experimental proofing, unique fermentation processes and 100% natural yeasts are all factors that are bringing new approaches to crusts. Ancient grains, artisanal flours and cold ferments are bringing crusts back to their roots.

Cheese. For some chefs, it’s all about the cheese, and the variety is expanding led by a full range of artisanal cheeses. California is the nation’s leading producer of mozzarella and Hispanic cheeses. Pairing these base cheeses with specialty and artisanal creates huge opportunity for innovation.

International flavors. There’s a new approach to spices from all over the world that is impacting pizza. From Thailand and South Africa to India and Central America, these new flavor combinations are game changers.

Vegetables. As consumers look for healthier options, more of them want veggie-forward versions of their favorite meals. These include interesting veggie combinations such as cauliflower, corn, kale, baby spinach and red onions. They add texture, moisture, protein and are gluten-free.

Bring on the heat. The fast casual restaurant trend has seen an explosion of pizzerias with wood-fired ovens that bake pies between 700 and 800 degrees.

The Real California Pizza Contest entry submission period runs through March 25, 2019. Judges will review all entries and the top four recipes in each category will be flown to the Culinary Institute of America campus in Napa, Calif., for a grand finale bake-off. Prizes of $5,000 each will be awarded to the winning pizzas in each category, and the grand prize winner will walk away with an additional $10,000.

For more information and the details on the Real California Pizza Contest—and to create your own entry, go to www.RealCaliforniaMilk.com/Foodservice.

This post is sponsored by California Milk Advisory Board

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