Many years ago, Fergus Falls mayor and owner of Union Pizza and Brewing Company, Ben Schierer was working in the south of France, where he was introduced to a new way of dining. “Meals there are just different,” he explained, “they have a different atmosphere that is just slower. It’s the last thing that is done for the day and takes a number of hours. It’s a time for family and friends to come together.”
Ben dined with friends while he was in France who introduced him to outdoor cooking in a stone oven fueled with fire and wood. “There is something primitive about cooking this way,” he shared. “Cooking with stone or brick, fire, and wood has been done for thousands of years.” The experience stuck with Ben as something that he wanted to integrate into his life.
In 2003, Ben and his wife, Tessa, purchased a home near the railroad tracks in Fergus Falls with a large area in the backyard sloping down to the tracks that was unusable. This provided a prime opportunity for Ben to incorporate a brick oven into a landscaping project to best utilize the space. Using reclaimed bricks from the community, Ben took on the extensive project, spending two months in 2006 building up the backyard and creating a patio and outdoor cooking space.
Armed with a library book, Ben shared that his favorite part of the project was the planning process. He went as far as contacting the book’s publisher and author to help learn the best method to accomplish his brick oven goals. In hindsight, he wishes he would have built the oven a bit larger but the family relocated to another home and a bit later, the larger oven came to fruition when they built their commercial brick oven at Union Pizza and Brewing Company.
“You can really bake anything in a brick oven,” Ben shared, confirming that pizza was their favorite, though sourdough bread was another common item they enjoyed, saying that his wife is the culinary genius and he is actually a bad cook, Ben explained that the process is his area of expertise. Figuring out the sourdough starter for bread and pizza dough was his domain while Tessa focused on pizza recipes for them to enjoy with family and friends. “I guess you could say that the menu for Union Pizza started way back in 2006 with our first brick oven,” Ben smiled.
Cooking outdoors doesn’t necessarily require a brick oven. Cooking on a grill or over an open fire are options that can be considered even for making pizza. Ben is preferable to sourdough crust, though he says working with sourdough starter can be intimidating. “We are happy to share our starter,” he stated, explaining that it can be obtained by anyone who is interested in giving sourdough a try.
There are a multitude of books available regarding constructing an outdoor oven and important factors to consider prior to beginning the actual build. Visiting with someone who has experience and tips may also prove to be helpful throughout the process.
“Just get out there and do it,” Ben encouraging anyone interested in building an outdoor oven.
One sourdough pizza dough ball
1/2 cup red sauce
( using high quality canned tomatoes
such as San Marzano)
1/2 cup sliced fresh tomato
4 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Stretch dough ball into approximately 12 inch circle and place onto well floured wooden peel. Spread red sauce to edges leaving a one inch border. Top with fresh mozzarella chunks, tomato, olive oil, and salt and pepper.
Transfer unbaked pizza onto floor of wood fired oven that has been heated to 750 degrees. Bake until golden and slightly charred.
After pizza has been baked, top with fresh basil, Parmesan, and drizzle of balsamic glaze ( optional).