The Wood-fired Oven Staycation Hero That Won’t Burn You or Your Fingers

June 24, 2021

Gardens and outdoor space play a hugely important role in the early months of the government’s Covid-19 roadmap and with ‘staycation’ the 2021 holiday buzzword, visits to much-missed friends and family will be hugely important.  But how do you wow your loved ones and keep activity centred in the garden for several hours?

Step up Orchard Ovens, an Anglo-Italian family business having a renaissance, having re-branded to go “back to the start”, as Coldplay would say.  The business name disappeared from view when owner, Andrew Manciocchi, partnered with Jamie Oliver for four years, launching a ‘Jamie’ range of ovens, but with the younger generation of Manciocchis now keen to get involved, Orchard Ovens is back.  One thing hasn’t changed.  The brilliant  wood-fired ovens that have lured not just Jamie, but others such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna and James Martin, are still very much part of the Orchard Ovens story.

These ovens (and there are gas options, if you really don’t wish to cook with wood) are the answer to your prayers this spring and summer, whether you want a ready-to-go version that can be wheeled on a stand or situated on a suitable structure in your garden, or wish to create something special and have a customised oven installation as a full-blown garden feature.

Either way, what you will get is a Valoriani oven and it really doesn’t get any better than that, as Italians will tell you.  Call it a ‘pizza oven’, if you will, but it’s so much more than that.

So what’s so good about Valoriani ovens, or as others would say, why do they cost quite a bit more than the UK-made ovens and other imported wood-fired ovens?  Orchard Ovens is by no means embarrassed by its ovens’ prices, knowing that it’s all down to that old adage of ‘you get what you pay for’.  Buy an Orchard Ovens ‘Valoriani’ and you will still be cooking in it in 10 years’ time.  Buy an alternative and you will be very lucky to get two summers out of it.  With regular use, it probably won’t even last the staycation.

Valoriani ovens have been at the centre of family life for centuries and know that life around an oven, true family al fresco style, involves passionate cooks, have-a-go-heroes wanting to add wood to the fire and interact with the hands-on cooking process and children excitedly playing.  What you don’t want, whichever of these pictures you conjure up, is an oven shell that is so red hot that the cook burns their arm on it, or a child screams out as they accidentally touch it.

Believe it or not, that’s what happens with other ovens and it’s all down to insulation.  Valoriani oven owners can testify that they have been able to cook with their oven whilst it has had snow on the top and the snow has not melted.  Others have built cedar shingle roofs over their ovens and that structure never got even slightly warm.  Those who have switched oven brands have the scalds and burns to show for their previous folly and can’t now believe that they felt a red-hot oven exterior to be the ‘norm’.

Insulation is super-important and anyone who knows about cooking will appreciate that.  No cake maker keeps wafting their oven door open and letting the temperature drop, but most other ovens are doing a very similar thing by letting all of their heat escape.  The oven floor gets cold, the temperature drops up and down all of the time, making consistent cooking a nightmare and, in many ways, the ovens are all show and no substance.

On to substance, in fact, as that’s also key.  Valoriani ovens are so incredibly efficient because of the quality of the materials used.  The ovens are constructed using fire-brick clay or ‘cotto clay’ as it is known and the quality of the Valoriani clay really has no peers.  The ovens are artisan-built and to a design that is decades old but which constituted true craftsmanship, backed with in-depth knowledge of what made for good heat circulation, when it was first drawn up in Tuscany a few generations ago.

None of this ‘formula’ can be beaten and certainly not by lumps of concrete hurriedly knocked together or ovens that are concrete plus embedded micro-mesh – a ploy to try to create some heat in their structure.  As any science student will tell you, if you keep heating and thus expanding and contracting metal within a bed of concrete, that concrete will crumble – right into the food cooking in your wood oven, in many cases.  How embarrassing!

So if you are a clued-up buyer and accept why there are no apologies for the price tag , you could be up and running before Boris Johnson gets a chance to shout ‘U-turn’…again.  Ready-to-go stars in the Fornino range, in gorgeous cream, red and black, or a mosaic tiled finish if you prefer, could be with you within a week and you could be enjoying the easing of lockdown to the full.  What’s more, you can be doing so without fear of an environmental health inspector knocking on the door, as Orchard Ovens’ Valorianis are all DEFRA-certificated and can be used anywhere in the UK, even if you live in a Smoke Control Area.

You’re never going to appreciate the difference between what Orchard Ovens supplied Valoriani is offering you and the other ovens on the market, until you see it for yourself and most people don’t.  Everything seems much of a muchness online and a lot of spiel surrounds other ovens.  Those who do see what Orchard Ovens can provide, because they are lucky to have a friend with a Valoriani oven or have been able to see a Valoriani at a show, in Italy or in the UK Preston-based showroom, never falter in their purchase decision.  Once you view the build and the construction and compare it with that of other ovens, there’s just no contest.

Fornino oven owners do use their ovens for pizzas – and can rustle these up in minutes, once the oven is up to pizza cooking temperature – but what distinguishes an Orchard Ovens customer is a real love of food and a passion for cooking.  Consequently, you will find Fornino owners – ranging from cordon bleu cooks to everyday parents who love to get their children and grandchildren having fun around the oven – cooking everything from seabass to steak and from tagines to tantalising desserts.  As for those with bespoke builds, the world and menu really can be their oyster.

The rebirth of Orchard Ovens comes just as British homeowners start to ponder what has been described as “pent-up savings” in their bank account.  With the availability of this accumulated disposable income, acquired due to folk being very much “grounded” by Covid-19, coinciding with a desire to get outside and be with friends and family again, all the omens are good for the brand that puts the ‘oos’ into wood-fired food.  What’s for sure is, if future years see us returning to this situation, a Valoriani oven will still be around to be your best al fresco entertaining ‘amico’.  Others won’t.

For more details of what Orchard Ovens can offer, head to www.orchardovens.co.uk