What is pizza?

I just returned from Italy, and being in the pizza business I was wandering from one pizza shop to another, always looking for a good pie.

After experiencing several different establishments, I came to the conclusion that I prefer American-style pizza. It is my opinion that the U.S. has a better pizza by far. Why? To me, the ingredients we have are much better. While I was there, I had some conversations with many pizza makers and discovered a new movement in the world of pizza. Many Italian pizza makers have banded together to try and regulate what can be called pizza. I listened to their arguments, but as you know, you can’t argue with an Italian. I like one thing, and they like another. It’s regional tastes that determine what is “best.”

While I was there, I learned from some pizza guys that a new national law in Italy mandates what can realistically be called “Neapolitan” pizza. Italian pizza makers and the modern day working class have devoted years of bickering over tomatoes, cheese, spices and oil. What is best? What is truly “real” or “traditional” Neapolitan pizza? The state also exposes a crack as to whether pizza is best for all classes. You gotta be kidding me. As strange as it is, this is what is going on in Italian politics.

A larger topic that threatens the use of the term “Neapolitan” pizza has come to light. One Italian pizza maker said, “Everyone is trying to do this type of pizza, but it’s not pizza. Pizza with pineapple and all of this other stuff…it’s not pizza, it’s cake.” Well, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

A collection of Italian pizza makers over 3,000 members strong recently met in Naples and tried to push some weight around concerning a very old recipe with green, red and white ingredients; the colors of the Italian flag. You know it as the Margherita. They want to regulate what the world calls pizza and even how it looks. Again, to each his own.

I agree the real traditional pizza is 13.75 inches with crust not too high, dough kneaded by hand. I also agree that you should use extra virgin olive oil, a certain type of flour, salt and yeast. My opinion is that San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella are best. Even I am entitled to my opinions.

In summation, it really doesn’t matter where pizza originated. Everybody loves pizza; that’s the claim. But, everyone is not from the same area, and their tastes, like their opinions, are different…and they are entitled to them. How you make it doesn’t matter. Each person has his or her own taste and that is the beauty of pizza. It can be modified and changed to fit each person’s taste. What is pizza? It is a reflection of your personality, of your region, of your tastes. And who is to say I am wrong? Am I not entitled to my preferences and tastes?

“Real” Neapolitan Pizza

According to the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, only pizzas made in the method defined below are real Neapolitan pizza. There are three types according to the Neapolitan pizza law and they are:

  • Marinara, with garlic and oregano.
  • Margherita, with basil and mozzarella cheese that must be from the southern Apennines.
  • Extra-Margherita, with fresh tomatoes, basil and buffalo mozzarella from the region of Campania.

The pizza must be round, not more than 13.75 inches in diameter, and made with hand-kneaded dough. The maximum crust thickness should be .75 inches and the center must be less than a tenth of an inch. If such criteria are met, the pizza will get labeled “S.T.G.” guaranteeing it is a traditional specialty.