"Have you ever made pizza from scratch? Did you make your own dough from flour and yeast? Did you make your own cheese from milk?"

Raised hands gradually lowered until none remained as Ken Hurley, director of the Enology Analytical Services Laboratory, looked quizzically at the group of visiting 4-H students.

Gathered together in the Virginia Tech Department of Food Science and Technology Pilot Plant, Hurley explained that they would be splitting into teams to create those ingredients, and that they were invited to stay for lunch.

The session was offered as part of the Great Summer Showcase held during the 2019 Virginia State 4-H Congress on Virginia Tech’s campus. It was a hands-on experience designed to show the visiting students that food science is not only a part of everyday life, but also a promising career path.

"I wanted to bring together food chemistry, food safety and fermentation science in a way that's common and easy to appreciate but also covers all the realms of food science," Hurley said.

Ken Hurley looks on as the kids prepare to make their pizza ingredients
Ken Hurley addresses the visiting students in the Food Science and Technology Pilot Plant. Photo by Ann Sandbrook.

The students who made the mozzarella got to observe how the cheese is set to curds by acidification and the action of heat, acid and rennet enzymes. After gathering and draining the curds, they experimented with temperatures that allowed them to stretch the curds into cheese.

Those who made the dough got a firsthand look at how yeast proofs, both before and after being combined with other ingredients. They observed how yeast, water, flour, sugar, salt and olive oil combined with kneading techniques can create that stretchy, perfect-pie dough.

"Oh, wow,” one student exclaimed as he watched the ingredients in the stand mixer wrap around the dough hook. “It just all of a sudden incorporated everything!"

The students were eager to taste the results of their work and were not disappointed. Using the dough and cheese they’d created from scratch combined with sauce and toppings, they assembled their own pizzas, which were then baked in the test kitchen's industrial convection oven on heated pizza stones.

Visiting 4H students sample their completed pizzas
4-H students sample the end result of their labors — freshly made pizza. Photo by Julia Hurley.

In the end, no pizza was left behind — the students requested to take their leftovers to go, and several shared that they were eager to make their own pizzas from scratch at home.

"This is the only class where I've actually gotten to do something hands-on," one student said. "I liked doing this activity."

"My favorite part of this session is that we got to eat the end result!" said another.


—Written by Julia Hurley