Why Materials and Method Matter With Wood Fired Ovens

working with a wood pizza oven kit

Last year, our director, Andrew Manciocchi, recorded a podcast, in which he talked about the fundamental differences between a Valoriani wood-fired oven (including pizza oven kits) and any other pizza oven on the market.  He was also clear to highlight why he refers to Orchard Ovens’ Valoriani ovens as wood fired ovens and not pizza ovens.

You may not have heard the podcast but you can still listen to it here.  It certainly provides food for thought.  It also highlights why Orchard Ovens is happy for someone to buy a £300 metal tin oven, if all they wish to do is cook the occasional pizza. 

Anyone wanting to upgrade from that and get serious needs to beware, though. Not all domed, grown-up ovens are the same by any means. As Andrew highlights, this can lead to distressing financial losses and even injuries.

Andrew explains how Valoriani wood-fired ovens were historically designed as bread ovens and how achieving their perfect dome shape was a huge technical achievement.  It entailed precisely working out the dimensions of height, diameter and mouth opening to create an oven that could cook food to perfection. 

Excellent cooking performance from a woodfired oven requires a good balance of heat around the oven and optimised airflow. The masters at Valoriani ensured that.

Celebrities owning Valoriani woodfired ovens

To highlight the sort of oven he is referencing, Andrew confirms that one of the  Jamie Oliver, another Valoriani owner.

This ability to attract top celebrity chefs and A-list celebrities as customers is down to the fact that, as Andrew explains, Valoriani is the Rolls-Royce brand of the wood-fired oven world.  It is historically the best wood-fired oven that money can buy and the one that even competitors say they aspire to be.

Heritage of Valoriani wood-fired ovens.

The brand’s heritage stretches back to 1890, when the Valoriani family produced ceramic products and sought the best refractory clay for their artisan production.  They discovered this, in the form of ‘Cotto clay’, in Regello, Tuscany, where they moved the business. 

This business relocation came after they found clay with the right amount of alumina for their needs.  Andrew explains that this clay has no additives and is entirely natural, dug from the Tuscan ground.

Wood-fired oven manufacturing approach

The family firm also has its unique manufacturing system, producing both the oven and the oven floor in-house to highly technical specifications for optimal cooking and heat retention.  Competitors do not do this as they use other refractory products not necessarily designed for oven use, such as ceramic tiles, stones designed for storage heaters, or plain simple firebricks only intended for kiln building, where heat is the only thing that matters.  The Valoriani way means that everything is under the scrutiny of perfectionists. 

Valoriani does not necessarily strive to create the prettiest wood-fired oven but does work untiringly to ensure it is the best wood-fired oven available on the market.  It is a case of substance over style.  No aesthetic appeal is acting as a mask over poor materials used in construction or inadequate cooking performance.

Andrew details how some oven manufacturers actually rely on incorporating blocks typically used in storage heaters to create their ovens. That would be anathema to Valoriani, where all manufacturing is an art form. There, five different minerals are put together in a mould, compressed at 40,000 atmospheres, and baked for three days to create the ‘pizza’ oven floor. 

Commercial, domestic and mobile wood-fired ovens

The artisanship goes even further.  There are different mixes for different cooking floors, and the customer may want a pizza oven, a bread oven, or a general all-purpose woodfired oven.  Nothing is left to chance.

Furthermore, a commercial oven has a different clay mix from a domestic oven, reflecting the far greater usage that will occur. As Andrew says, “The science behind it is amazing,” and “lots of thought goes into it.” 

This is crucial because, as he adds, the most significant percentage of his business in the past 2-3 years has been replacing ovens in which the oven floor has failed.  This has been across commercial, domestic and mobile pizza oven markets, proving that having a flawless oven floor matters to anyone buying a wood-fired oven.

Woodfired oven failure

Contrast this situation with one in which most Valoriani ovens are still going strong after 20 years.   Some commercial ovens, which Andrew has seen when launching a rescue mission for their owners, have only lasted 12 months.  Some mobile ovens have only survived for six months before failing. 

A recent commercial oven sale in Basingstoke occurred because the owner’s first oven, costing £8,500, lasted only four months and was not fit for purpose.  This almost cost him his business. Luckily, Andrew had a very rarely available used Valoriani and could save the customer’s business by replacing his oven within a week, at a cost and terms he could afford.

Another distressing case involved a gentleman who paid £10,000 for an oven only to find that it failed within a fortnight. He then had to spend another £10,000 to replace it. It really is a case of buyer beware when it comes to wood-fired ovens.

The insulation built into a Valoriani oven is another thing that sets it apart. This creates better cooking performance by retaining the heat within the oven, but it is also a huge factor in health and safety terms. 

One domestic customer that Andrew has encountered saw their child suffering 30-degree burns, having touched the outer shell of a competitor oven the first time it was fired up.  Many ovens lack insulation, making the dome a safety hazard. 

That is not the case with Valoriani ovens.  The shell is cool to the touch – so much so that one customer noted that snow, sitting on top of the oven, did not melt when the oven was being used.

Finding the right woodfired oven for you

Artisanship and how that translates into creating a top-performing oven that will grow with you and your family is just one theme in Andrew’s podcast. Listen to the rest by heading here, and you will learn a whole lot more about the topic of ‘when a pizza oven is not a pizza oven’.

It pays to know what you are paying for, so don’t be caught out.  Know where you sit in the market and what you want from a pizza oven or wood-fired oven and buy wisely. 

If you call 07743 847647, Orchard Ovens offers advice. The team will direct you to the best oven for your needs rather than trying to upgrade you to a Valoriani if that does not suit your business or lifestyle ambitions. 

This is just part and parcel of their commitment to the wood fired oven sector in the UK, having been the family that pioneered the introduction of pizza ovens, over 20 years ago.