People love to make Italian breads — pizza especially. And for that, the serious ones tend to seek out Italian flour, the kind that’s known as Italian “00″ flour. As to what exactly that is, there is quite a bit of confusion. Search around the web a bit and you can find all kinds of animated discourse on the subject:
It’s HIGH-gluten flour specifically made for pizza!
No, it’s LOW-gluten flour that’s used for pastry!
No, it’s flour that’s only used for bread!
No, it’s flour that CAN’T be used for bread!
I’ll do my best to settle some of this, because it is a touch complicated. First off, Italian flour makers (like all flour makers on the Continent) don’t classify flours in terms of their gluten content. Rather, they classify them by ash content and by grind. Italian Type “2″ flour is a coarsely ground high-ash flour (what we in the US might call a “meal”). Types “1″ and “0″ are medium-ash, medium grind flours for hearth breads. Type “00″ is the low-ash fine grind that’s used for many whiter breads (including pizza) and some pastry. In general it’s roughly equivalent to our own all-purpose flour. It’s fairly high in protein (gluten), and good for a lot of things.
So then if it’s high in gluten, why do some pizza makers substitute extremely LOW gluten flour for Italian “00″ flour in their pizza crust recipes? The answer is that not all gluten is created equal. Some varieties of wheat contain gluten that is both hard and springy (like our own hard red wheat), and make very elastic doughs. Other types contain gluten that’s hard but not springy (durum for example) which produce doughs that are firm but not very elastic. Most Italian flours are of the latter variety, which is why most real Italian pizza makers don’t do this with their dough, but instead prefer to stretch their pizzas into shape.
What does it all mean? It means that Italian flour has “bite” but not “chew”. American high-gluten flour has both “bite” and “chew”, but that’s not necessarily a good thing, depending on who you talk to. Some American pizza makers, hoping to more closely approximate a Neapolitan-style pizza, opt to eliminate the “chew” of American flour by employing a low gluten flour, sacrificing the “bite” in the process. It’s a trade-off that some people really like, for instance me, though I definintely opt for the genuine article when I can get it.
Hope than makes sense.