The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, set up by Naples’ 17 most prominent pizza-making families in 1984, is even more stringent. “A pizza must be round, with a maximum diameter of 35cm and a crust of 1cm-2cm, swollen, golden-coloured and with a little amount of bubbles and burns. The central part must be maximum 3mm thick and, lifting a side of the pizza, the bottom must be golden and without evident burns,” says Antonio Pace, the association’s president, summarising the document that details the qualities required for a pizza to become AVPN-accredited. It runs to 27 pages.
For diehard Neapolitans, pizza is not pizza unless it conforms. “The Roman, Sicilian and other versions aren’t pizzas but variations on focaccia. The only pizza with its own traditional and cultural heritage is the Neapolitan one,” says food historian Antonio Mattozzi, author of Inventing the Pizzeria. In December last year, Unesco elevated Neapolitan pizza-making to “intangible cultural heritage” status.
The first use of the word “pizza” is generally dated to AD997 in Gaeta, north-west of Naples, but Mattozzi says this is probably a corruption of the Byzantine-Greek “pitta”. It can just mean flattened in Italian, and “Che pizza!” is a mild insult.
Only in Naples, argues Mattozzi, could pizza have been born. He dedicates at least nine pages of his book to the city’s unique environs — flanked by the fertile soil of nearby Mount Vesuvius and the mozzarella-producing Monti Lattari (Dairy Hills) — and socio-economic context. A straggling port, squeezed between mountains and sea, Naples had an urban influx in the 16th century that made it the second most populous city in Europe after Paris. Tiny apartments balanced in precarious six- or seven-storey buildings often lacked kitchens. Hunting for trade, unemployed hawkers — lazzari — turned to street food.
As a major trading hub, Naples was key to the import of tomatoes into Europe. Pizza — in the crust/tomato/cheese format we know today — was cheap to make and easy to sell. Whereas a Roman pizza crust is cardboard-thin, brittle and, in the rich capital city, more likely to be topped with meat, the Neapolitan’s high-rise cornicione was intended to mimic the filling feeling of meat, which dock workers could not afford.
Pizza is now one of the most widely eaten foods in the world. Mattozzi estimates that Italy has more than 50,000 pizzerias. According to Euromonitor, the world pizza industry was worth $134bn in 2017.
In Rome, the four spartan ingredients of the Neapolitan dough are enriched with olive oil to make the slimline crust spongier. The pizza makers of Abruzzo make pizza di frigole, whose dough is mixed with pig’s lard. In Sicily, where cooking alla nonna is often preferred, pizza crusts are thicker, bouncier and homelier, in the tradition of focaccia with toppings. Then there is America.
Annabel Wheeler eats pizza every day. She and her husband Michael, a bond trader, missed their New York slice so much when they moved to London that in 2015 they opened NY Fold, a central London diner specialising in New York-style “pizza pie”. They opened a second branch in east London in May.
In Italy, the toppings are almost incidental to the base — one Italian chef told the Elliot brothers that topping a pizza was essentially “seasoning the bread”. In the US, the crust is an edible plate. “It has a thick, bread-like texture,” says Wheeler, dishing out half a 20in pizza on to paper plates. “There’s more substance than a Neapolitan pizza, and because you have that, you can have more toppings.”