The term “pizza” was first used in Italy in 997, when flat leavened bread topped with tomatoes was introduced in Naples. Pizza remained an exclusive product of Italy for centuries, true to its original method of production using local wheat, tomatoes, and extra virgin olive oil.
A thousand years later, pizza can be found all over the world. Many pizzerias have claimed authenticity giving rise to the Association Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) in 1984, the governing body that determines if pizza abroad meets the rigorous Italian standards, from ingredients to final product. Professional pizza makers, called pizzaiolos, set out specific guidelines for those wishing to have their pizza certified authentic, in the tradition of the first pizzas baked in Naples.
Today, pizza in America runs the gamut from Little Caesar’s fast food variety to true Neopolitan style pies found in more upscale pizzerias, like Fritti for example, opened by Riccardo Ullio in 2000, next door to his acclaimed Italian restaurant Sotto Sotto in Inman Park.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Ullio regarding his authentic Neopolitan pizzas and the certification process. “Fritti was the first in the country to become a member of the association , around 2004 or 2005.” When asked about the process, Ullio continued “I called them, then they sent an inspector to watch how we made the dough and how we baked it to decide if it met the qualifications or not.”
Authentic Neopolitan pizza is defined by its ingredients like bufala mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes from Italy and dough made with extra fine “00” flour. However, I learned that it is not mandatory to use imported ingredients to earn the AVPN certification. Per the guidelines, Ullio tops his pies with the distinctive canned Italian tomatoes that arrive by ship from Italy and are then sent to restaurants nationwide. However, he uses fresh local ingredients including yeast and artisan mozzarella delivered by small producers and purveyors.
The techniques used in making the dough and baking the pie all play a part in a restaurant’s qualification for the prestigous association. For example, the pizza must be cooked directly on the surface inside a wood fire oven, never in a pan. But do Americans really care about authenticity? According to Ullio, not really. “The certification adds authenticity to it, but in the end, if they like the pizza they find at Fritti, they will come here.”
Some say membership in the AVPN is simply good marketing while others believe that pizza certified by the association is the only truly authentic pizza. Today, there are just a handful of pizzerias in Atlanta that meet the strict requirements of the AVPN, including popular Antico Napoletana and Double Zero Napoletana.
So do better ingredients produce a better pizza? The answer is on the tip of your tongue.
About Serina Patrick
Serina is a food blogger based in Atlanta. She has been writing the Hot Dish Review blog for as long as blogs have existed (or so it seems), and she has enough dirt on chefs that nobody ever refuses her an interview.