Pizza Oven Proposal Gets Cooking

By Day Robins

Students Caitlin Haedrich ’16.5 and Larson Lovdal ’16.5 are imagining a whole new kind of dining for the College. The duo has submitted a project proposal for an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven, or “cob oven,” to be built at the Organic Garden this summer.

“It’s an idea that’s been tossed around in the Organic Garden since its beginning in 2002,” Haedrich said. Colleges all over Vermont have already built outdoor wood-fired ovens, including one at UVM’s Organic Garden. “They’re kind of trending right now,” she added.

“The reason I want to build this is because [cob ovens] get really hot and make the food amazing,” Haedrich said. “Everything tastes better because it cooks so quickly so the outside gets really crispy before the inside loses moisture.”

Cooking in cob ovens is also time-efficient. “It takes a minute and a half to cook a pizza … so you could easily make thirty large pizzas in an hour,” Lovdal said. “It’s also very multi-faceted. After you’ve made pizza, you can bake bread or cook a pie in it later on as the oven cools.”

Haedrich and Lovdel came up with the idea after spending a night cooking pizza in a similar oven in Haedrich’s hometown of Norwich, VT where there is a cob oven open for public use. “Growing up, every Sunday night in the summer we would heat it up…and some nights we’d show up and there’d be over 60 people from all across the community,” Haedrich said.

“After fall break, we started looking into the process of what it takes to build one and it’s just incredibly simple,” Lovdal said. The building process of the oven itself only takes two days and can be made almost entirely from local materials.

“Part of the beauty of it being locally resourced and having so many recycled materials is that it’s a really low cost oven to build,” Lovdal stated. For example, the duo plans on using recycled wine bottles as insulation.

“We also have an agreement with the project manager at Nelson that we can use some of the concrete that was torn out from the old arena [for the base],” said Lovdal. The most challenging and costly part of construction will be the oven’s surrounding wood shelter.

Ross and Cook commons are the main sponsors of the project and have committed substantial funds.

“From their side, it’s really cool because it encourages community between the commons,” Haedrich said.

“But, the sky is the limit in terms of investing,” Haedrich added. “It’d be great to have really nice picnic tables and better equipment to use with the oven. So we’re always looking for more funding.”

The oven’s location at the organic garden will give it continuity and encourage sustainability by bringing the Middlebury community closer to locally grown food.

“This project also aligns really well with both Middlebury’s and the organic garden’s values that support local, sustainable, environmentally friendly projects,” Lovdal said.

“You could easily make an Addison County pizza,” said Organic Garden Manager Jay Leshinsky, referencing the Organic Garden’s variety of toppings, that include Scolton Farm’s cheese and Gleason Grains’ organic wheat. Leshinsky, who has worked at the Organic Garden since its founding, has supported this project since its proposal.

“It’s really been the initiative of these students, and I’d like to think it just made sense to them that the farm would be the best place for it because it’s just a really nice social setting and has such an immediate relationship to food, so it seemed to be a natural one,” Leshinsky said.

“I’ve been so impressed by the prep work that Larson and Caitlin have done and all the people they’ve been working with,” Leschinsky added. “There is a lot that is involved in siting a building … and particularly one that uses fire.”

To address the school’s safety and liability concerns, the organic garden will keep the key that locks the metal doors on the shelter to the oven. They will also be the point-people to contact for use of the oven. Students who want to use the oven will have to get a fire permit from Public Safety and watch a short, informative how-to video on using the oven.

Once the project is approved by the space committee, Larson and Caitlin will be able to take more detailed steps such as picking the oven’s site at the organic garden, hammering out details on the shelter’s construction, and finalizing the project’s budget.

Haedrich is hopeful that the space committee will approve the project in April. Construction on the oven and surrounding shelter are scheduled for right after finals week so that it can be used by the end of this summer.

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