About Face

Having tackled the fully Americanized version of pizza, I think it only makes sense to turn around and go the other direction: to the hyper-authentic Neapolitan style. Neapolitan pizza, as the name implies, is that which comes from the city of Naples, and in fact there’s evidence people have been eating pizza there for a very, very long time. Virgil wrote in the Aeneid of how Greek explorers ate meals off of round, flat pieces of bread when they landed in Italy, not very far from modern-day Naples in the first century B.C.. Indeed the ruins of the city of Pompeii, which were frozen in time by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, contain what looks very much like a proto-pizzeria. Of course “pizza” back then would have looked very different than what we know today. There would have been no New World tomatoes, no buffalo-milk mozzarella…just round, flat pieces of bread topped with things like olive oil and herbs.

Was that pizza? I can’t say I know, but it almost certainly wouldn’t pass muster in modern-day Italy, where there are now laws that make it a crime to sell anything called “Neapolitan Pizza” that doesn’t adhere to the strict guidelines of the D.O.C. (Denominazione Di Orgine Controllata) system. Similar to the French A.O.C. (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) designation that was originally created to protect wine makers, the Italian D.O.C. codified into law pretty much every aspect of Neapolitan pizza, from ingredients to dimensions to toppings to the oven temperature it’s baked at. Anything that veers, however slightly, from the official government code cannot legally be called Neapolitan pizza.

Seems a bit strange to those of us in Americans where pretty much anything goes with (and on) pizza, but then those continentals like things pretty zipped up where their cultural heritage is concerned. However in the last decade or so quite a few pizzerias have popped up around the country selling D.O.C. pizza (there are now two of them in my former Chicago neighborhood, if you can believe it). I like it, though I confess I wouldn’t want it to be my only choice. Should you want to learn how to make real Neapolitan pizza so you can sport the official D.O.C. emblem on your kitchen door, there’s an international trade organization called Verace Pizza Napoletana (Italian for “Authentic Neapolitan Pizza”) that will teach you how to do it. Visit them here. Me, I don’t take it quite that far, but I’ve learned one or two things off that web site.

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