The Neapolitan Tradition: These Two Organizations Teach and Uphold a 300-Year Tradition of Pizza-Making
Here’s a quick guide to the VPN and APN organizations—what makes them tick and what makes each one different.
Jay Jerrier, owner of the Cane Rosso chain in the Dallas area, opened his first VPN-certified restaurant in 2011. “We get a lot of coverage for being VPN-certified,” he says, “but we also respect the tradition.”
Some pizzeria chefs and owners want to do everything the old-fashioned way. And when it comes to Neapolitan-style pies, who can blame them? This artisanal type of pizza has been picking up steam around the country for years, with critics and consumers alike raving about their puffy-edged crusts, back-to-basics toppings and flavor combinations, and smoke-tinged char thanks to a wood-burning oven’s searing cooking temperatures.
But for many pizzaiolos, these pizzas aren’t authentic without approval from certain Italian governing bodies: the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) and the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani (APN). “The VPN certifies restaurants that meet certain standards as far as ingredients, equipment and methods,” explains Scott Wiener, owner of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York. “The APN certifies pizza makers, so they focus more on technique, and that degree stays with the pizza maker no matter where he works.”
Whereas the VPN monitors more closely what goes into pizza production, the APN is more about training and ability, adds Wiener, and more people are familiar with the VPN in the United States because it has been around longer. “These organizations saw an opportunity for regulation and maintaining control over what a Neapolitan pizza is—and having that definition is a good thing,” he continues. “A Margherita pizza can mean 25 different things, but this way people can know the boundaries.”
VPN and APN certifications have also helped many pizzerias market themselves as unique compared to their competitors. We spoke with heads and members from these two nonprofit organizations to find out more about their standards and certification procedures.
Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN)
VPN Americas was founded about 20 years ago as an offshoot from the original association in Naples. The goal was to empower a new generation with the knowledge and tradition of Italian pizza making and to establish a set of guidelines. For example, an authentic Neapolitan pizzeria uses the following:
- A wood-fueled oven that meets certain criteria for the materials it’s made with, as well as the height of its dome and the width of its mouth, and that heats to 900° to 1,000°
- A mixer that mimics the action of hand forming while mixing the dough, so as not to overheat the dough (otherwise, it won’t have the elasticity and softness Neapolitan pizza requires)
- Dough that incorporates only four ingredients: flour, salt, yeast and water; as well as the handling of the dough, including proofing, cook time and stretching techniques
- Simple, fresh ingredients that include Italian tomatoes, fior di latte or bufala mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil and fresh basil
Pizzeria owners who want to become VPN-certified must fill out a form, then send in pictures of everything from the pizza maker and owner to the oven and mixer used, plus videos of the dough production and a picture of the final product.
Initial approval occurs in Naples, and an inspector visits the pizzeria in person to spend the day at the pizzeria and observe the operations. When the pizzeria is confirmed, it receives appropriate signage and a signed certificate with a membership number.
VPN certification conveys some important advantages to pizzerias, establishing authenticity for the brand that can be used to distinguish the VPN-certified restaurant from its competitors. And VPN certification also sends a message to those finicky consumers who pay special attention to the ingredients in their food and seek out artisan cuisine. In effect, it’s a license to brag and a major selling point in a pizzeria’s marketing strategy.
Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani (APN)
As pizza restaurants were getting certified in baking Neapolitan pies, some wondered, “What about the pizza maker?” Hence, a few experienced members of the VPN and other pizzaioli, including Antonio Starita and Sergio Miccu, branched out to form the APN in 1999.
APN certification takes place only in Italy and the United States, and any APN board members can certify the pizza maker. If a pizza maker has no experience in making Neapolitan pizza, he must attend an APN school to learn the correct methods. Such training includes, for example, a pricey and extensive course on how to make dough, tomato sauce and cheese; what equipment must be used; how the dough is stretched and cooked; how to place ingredients on the pizza; and how to work a wood-fired oven.
Because the course takes place in a working Neapolitan-style pizzeria, students also get an in-depth look at what it takes to run this type of restaurant, from staff requirements and customer relations to location and design. (For more information on becoming APN-certified, visit the organization’s international website at pizzaiuolinapoletani.it or the American website at apnamerica.com.)
APN board members focus more on pizza-making technique—how to extend and make the dough, the temperature of the ovens, how many seconds the pizza should be cooked. The goal is to make a perfect pie every time.