Food & Ingredients

Leah Scurto Wins B.I.G. With The Nut-torious F.I.G.

Judges of the Real California Pizza Contest: Tournament of Champions were “hypnotized” by a “juicy” pie inspired by The Notorious B.I.G.

Story and Photos by Brian Hernandez

 

The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), a sponsor of the U.S. Pizza Team (USPT), crowned Leah Scurto of PIZZALEAH as the grand-prize winner of the Real California Pizza Contest: Tournament of Champions on October 17. The event challenged 10 past Real California Pizza Contest (RCPC) champs to create the quintessential California pizza using cow’s milk cheeses from California.

Scurto, a USPT member whose pizza shop is located in Windsor, California, won the tournament with The Nut-torious F.I.G. Touted as a sweet ode to the signature California fruit, this masterpiece uses Real California mozzarella, Fontina and feta cheeses to balance out fresh black mission figs, crispy Italian sausage, minced garlic and olive oil. It’s topped with raw chopped almonds and aromatic julienned sage leaves. Scurto will receive an all-expense-paid trip to Italy to compete as a CMAB-sponsored chef in the 2024 Caputo Cup Pizza Competition.

“I’m so pumped for the win,” Scurto says. “I’ve won the category two years in a row, but never the grand prize. The winner is whoever nails their pizza that day, and I nailed mine. My dough was on fire. I restrained myself from using too much cheese…I struggle with over-topping. Everything just fell into line today.” 

In a second CMAB culinary competition, two chef teams tied for the highest score in the Three-Cheese Pizza Bake-Off. Team 1 consisted of Scurto and Bill Crawford of Righteous Slice in Rexburg, Idaho. They highlighted California mozzarella, dry Jack and provolone in their winning pie. The other winning team was USPT premiere member David Jacobson of Acre Kitchen and Bar in Oakland, California, and Spencer Glenn of Pizza My Heart in Pacific Grove, California, who featured mozzarella, ricotta and truffle-infused Toma on their pizza.

In addition to showcasing the best pizza makers from around the country, the competition highlighted the diversity and sustainability of California milk and cheese. Behind all the flash of truffle-flavored Toma and fresh figs lies the base of every good pizza: a flavorful, melty cheese holding all the pizzaiolo’s creativity in place on every slice.

This photo shows Leah Scurto doing prep work for a pizza-making appearance on Hulu.
Leah Scurto competed last year on Hulu’s “Best of Dough.” (Photo by Michael Desmond/Hulu)

 

It’s Not Just Cheese

But cheese is cheese, right? It’s actually more complicated than that. “The secret to a good cheese is knowing how to use it to complement other flavors and toppings,” Scurto says. “All cheese is good cheese. It’s just a matter of how and where you pair it.”

“California has always been unique,” adds CMAB chairman Tony Louters. “We do things bigger and better here, and you can really see that in the pizzas in the competition: the unique flavors, and not only the unique use of California cheeses but other local resources like figs and nuts to really accentuate these pies. It’s the same thing we do in our dairies. We’re the leader in sustainability, innovation, cows and even cow comfort. Now you can add pizza to that list.”

Sustainability is not only a key trend in the industry, but it’s also a practical way of life for the people, land and animals of California, leading to happy cows, fruitful harvests and satisfied pizzeria patrons. “I look at sustainability from a farmer’s standpoint,” Louters says. “We are the first environmentalists, the boots on the ground. If we don’t take care of our water, our resources, none of our families will have a future. We recycle our water up to five or six times before we put it out to the fields as a nutrient source for our crops. And a good portion of the feed for our cows would go into a landfill if we didn’t recycle it. We just love that about California.”

Jennifer Giambroni, CMAB’s vice president of communications, adds, “California is a very special place to produce food. We have a moderate climate, allowing our cows to be outside almost all year long. We also have access to high-quality feed for our animals and a driving hunger for innovation. There are over 200 years of legacy and history in our wine and cheese country here, but we also seek out and embrace that innovation that’s going to drive the industry forward in the future: things like recycling of water and cooperation between industries to reduce carbon footprints across the board, while reducing waste and increasing the quality of production.”

One final note: If The Notorious B.I.G. were alive today, what would be his favorite pizza ingredient? He told us in one song title on his classic album released a few weeks after his death: “I Love the Dough.”   

Brian Hernandez is PMQ’s test chef and U.S. Pizza Team coordinator.