Naples is the birthplace of pizza. It is difficult not to find a good pie around here. The streets are filled with pizza shops, with display windows of the pizza makers, “pizzaiolos,” hard at work kneading and forming the elastic balls of dough with care. EVERY pizza joint is equipped with a wood-fired oven, which is just a formality in the States. And don’t you dare ask for extra Parm, chili flakes, or any additional condiments. Here, pizzaiolos take their pizza very seriously and are proud of their product.
So much so, that the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) was started in 1984. It’s an association that is dedicated towards regulating the branding of the term “verace pizza Napoletana,” the true Neapolitan pizza. Similar to the guidelines behind the branding of the term, “champagne.” The AVPN is responsible for regulating the use of the brand “verace pizza Napoletana,” and works consistently to inspect the establishments that are under its license. In order to to be considered a legitimate pizza maker of Neopolitan pizza, one must follow the strict guidelines set forth by the association.
Here are the top 10 guidelines for crafting a true Neapolitan pizza:
1. All ingredients used in the pizza must be derived from the Campania region of Italy.
2. The type of flour used must be “00” grade, the finest of flours free of any bran or germ.
3. The dough must endure a rising time of at least 10 hours, and the end result must have a ph of 5.87.
4. The dough must not contain any traces of fat.
5. Tomatoes must be free of any antibiotics and must be completely natural, preferably San Marzano. I think this may be the biggest obstacle we have in the US.
6. Olive oil must be cold-pressed and poured out of a copper canister.
7. The temperature of the wood-fired oven must be 800F, the cooking surface must be 905F, and the cooking process should take no longer than 60-90 seconds.
8. The wood used in the oven must be free of odors that would interfere with the pizza. Maple and Oak is preferred.
9. The final temperature of the cooked pizza dough must be 140F-149F.
10. The pizza must be evenly cooked around all edges, which is done by consistently rotating the pizza throughout the 60 second cooking process.
If that isn’t granular, I don’t know what is. After learning about all these guidelines, I’d hesitate to consider Pizza Hut as “pizza.”
One of the most famous pizzerias in the world is L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples. After reading about this place on multiple blogs, I knew I had to come here. Known as the “Sacred Temple of Pizza,” this place has been open since 1870 and has been run by the same family to this day. Despite it’s international fame, it still is a small, non-descript restaurant. I probably would’ve just past it had it not been for the lines out the door. The white tiled walls are dotted with a few newspaper clippings that celebrate this much sought after pizza, that people from all over the world have taken a pizza pilgrimage for. Above our table, there is a photo of Forest Whitaker taking a photo with the Da Michele Crew. On the opposite wall, there is Julia Roberts taking a big bite for a scene in “Eat, Pray, Love.” The menu consists of only two choices: Margherita and Marinara. No frills. To the point. And only 4 Euro for a personal pizza. And no, that is not a typo.
Wanna know the crazy part?
Da Michele’s is not recognized as a true Neapolitan pizza joint. I’d originally thought they were, especially given their international fame. However, one of my readers and fellow pizza aficionado has pointed out two reasons why they’re pizza is not considered truly Neapolitan. First off is the cheese. Da Michele’s uses fior di latte–cow’s milk cheese, as opposed to mozzarella di bufala–buffalo’s milk cheese. Secondly, they use soy bean oil, as opposed to olive oil. It’s amazing to see how one of the most pizzaiolos in the world rose to fame for not following the rules. A rare act of rebellion in such a conservative town.
I got the Margherita. After my first bite, I knew I could no longer appreciate another pizza again. The simplicity of it all, made it glorious. I like to judge a pizza by the dough. The crust was perfectly charred on the outside, and so elastic yet immensely soft on the inside. The texture was mind-blowing. The tomatoes…so fresh and sweet. The basil…slightly browned on the edges giving off a delicate perfume. The mozzarella di Bufala…so creamy and intensely rich.
I never order Margherita pizzas. I used to think that pizzas were all about the toppings. However, now I know why Da Michele has amassed a religious following. It’s like having your first bite of Valrhona 70% dark chocolate, after a lifetime of Hershey’s. Or having the world’s best vanilla ice cream. It just does not get any better than the purest form.
The last slice…no…the end is near!
Experiencing Da Michele’s was a bittersweet experience. Now I know what a real pizza tastes like. However, at the same time, I seriously don’t think I can look at pizza the same way again. I hope this doesn’t turn me into a pizza snob. I can already hear the internal comments floating in my head, “Wait…this pizza wasn’t cooked in a wood-fired oven at 800 degrees?” Or “Sorry, can’t eat this if it was cooked for over 90 seconds.” Being a coffee snob is enough, I do not need more things to be picky about.
**This article was updated on 7/22/15.