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Holly Moore

Certified Neapolitan Pizza

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A rigid adherence to "authenticity" sounds like a dubious sales proposition for pizza. It may have been invented in Naples, but who's to say they got it right?


Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"

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A  rigid adherence to "authenticity" sounds like a dubious sales proposition for pizza. It may have been invented in  Naples, but who's to say they got it right?

I've eaten at La Pizza Fresca, which is one of the places that Naples has OK'd - the pizza was very good, but the place is never very full, so as a sales proposition it might need some work.


"Long live democracy, free speech and the '69 Mets; all improbable, glorious miracles that I have always believed in."

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These sorts of regulatory schemes -- which ultimately protect producers more than quality (witness the requirement that so many ingredients be imported from Italy) -- are a mostly European thing. I can't imagine they'd catch on in the US beyond the level of novelty.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If people want to experience this level of authenticity, they are better off going to a museum than a pizzeria.


Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"

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These sorts of regulatory schemes -- which ultimately protect producers more than quality (witness the requirement that so many ingredients be imported from Italy) -- are a mostly European thing. I can't imagine they'd catch on in the US beyond the level of novelty.

There is certainly a degree of producer protection in certification schemes like this, but it's not necessarily wrong. Try inventing and marketing a cola drink and calling it Coca Cola and see how long it is before you're wrapped up in litigation. Now the original may not be the best cola, it may not even be a good cola, but stupid attempts at formula changing aside you know what you're going to get. So what's wrong with promoting authentic Neopolitan Pizza? Consumers may prefer other styles, may not even like that style of pizza, but at least they can make an informed choice based upon accurate labelling.

This casual use of descriptors can be minefield. If you go into an unknown restaurant and order, say, a Caesar Salad do you know in advance what it's going to look like, what it will taste like, what it will contain? It will probably contain lettuce, some kind of dressing and some kind of cheese (which may be authentic Parmigiano Reggiano or may be some inferior knock-off from Wisconsin). No point of reference, no means of authentication. That is not to say "original is best", but it should be a known starting point.

Take your own handle, it shows up here as Fat Guy, and we all know what that implies (I'm not going grease here, but it's generally good), but how would you feel if another writer came along producing clearly inferior stuff under the handle of fatguy or fat bloke, or even Fat Guy?

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[Pizza] may have been invented in  Naples, but who's to say they got it right?

I do.


--

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This is my first post on the forum so I just hope I won't step on anyone's toes. Being an adoptive Neapolitan (I lived there 18 years) You might imagine that I'm quite touched by the topic. I agree with Britcook's reply about wanting to give proper information to costumers and I would love to defend the concept of Original Neapolitan Pizza (ONP) here, against the invasion of the evil Darth domino's etc. and so on.... but I just can't bring myself to do it.

The point is: what the hell is ONP? I mean is there such a thing?

NO F... WAY!!!

There is neapolitan style pizza but even in Napoli there are loads of variations. Let me go a bit deeper:

-The nice story about the Queen Margherita is actually bollocks. It was a nice marketing stunt by the pizzaiolo in question. Pizza with mozzarella, and probably basil had been baked for quite some time. He probably just added loads more basil (I mean just a basil top is not enough to resemble the colors of the italian flag!).

-The traditional pizza should be made with a specific type of flour, tomatoes and mozzarella. Well even in naples there's many who sprinkle your pizza with just a bit of garted parmisan. And Mozzarella (buffalo milk) or fior di latte (cow)? Some even used Provola (the smoked version. I could go on talking about tomatoes and so on but let's leave it.

Should these guys therefore not protect ONP? Well I belive not. After all they are offering something with a characteristic style which deserves to be at least known to pizza lovers.

Now about the taste-style, takink a few points out of the PI article:

- pizza (at least in Naples) was and partially still is a "cheap" food and toppings and so on have appeared quite recently.

- neapolitan pizza is soft, you just don't eat wedges of it: you eat it either with fork and knife or fold it twice to have a so called "book form" and eat it so.

- Since the number of ingredients is minimal (as for many southern italian recipes) you need the best ingredients: fior di latte (possibly from Agerola), sun riped plum tomatoes (San Marzano if possible, but there's very little of those available), nice and tasty EVO and most important of all the dough, long-rise, with very little yeast (or even better sourdough starter). Oh my what a pizza!!!! And yes I AM a pizza purist myself, though I don't mind the odd fancy topping pan pizza every now and then (no pinapple though :wacko:) there is a limit: if I just think at the caviar and quile egg pizza in one of michael rhulmann's books I see red :smile:.

BTW if you ever are in Napoli and want to try the best simplst and tastiest pizza go to Michele a Forcella, they make just two pizzas but oh boy!

alberto


Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.

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The success or otherwise of the AOC concept for pizza will be judged by the market, just as a few people have already commented, because this is nothing other than a marketing mechanism. The concept has no appeal to me, and I can't help but smile wryly when I see it referred to (at Otto for example) but then it does me absolutely no harm. If I had to make a forecast, it would be that the idea will gain force for a year or so, and within five years it will have disappeared.

What is wrong is to link the AOC notion to consumer protection or information.

Unless all AOC pizzas are made by the same company, merely stipulating generic source of ingredients, approximate recipe, and basic rules for cooking method are absolutely not going to guarantee the consumer he knows exactly what he is going to get ... apart from "a pizza", that is. The variables even when following the regulations being laid down are so huge, including not least the skill of the cook, that the consumer will know no more under the VPN scheme than he already knows from reading the menu, or asking the server, or experience.

I also believe that the value of AOC in maintaining for posterity "authentic" methods of food preparation are foolish. As Fresco already said, that's a job for a museum, not a restaurant. Incidentally, I suddenly realize I know Fresco's brother, Al. There positively is no such thing as "the authentic Neapolitan pizza". Alberto has already pointed out that in Naples you can find a dozen different Pizze Napolitane, as different from one another as a Napolitana is different from a Veneziana. And in Sorrento, maybe ten miles away, you'll find another dozen entirely new variations.

Authentic is of no value to a person who enjoys food. Delicious is of value, authentic is literally for tourists. If you knew the "authentic" way to make sausages, you'd probably never eat a sausage again. Modern practices of hygiene have made authentic illegal, and rightly so. The "authentic" way to make Pizza Napolitana depends on all the ingredients being produced in Naples. But nowadays, with the ingredients (even under the VPN regime) coming from all over the world, the "authentic" recipe and method of cooking will not produce the same tasting product it "authentically" did, and may well produce a poor-tasting result.

It would be sad to see the VPN regime gain too much credence, since this may create a cartel working against the interests of consumers, and could also be used as an invalid excuse for increasing prices. But as long as it remains a marginal entity within the industry, I shall continue to smile wryly and avoid VPNs on the menu. :smile:

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If you're in NYC, note that Naples 45 in the MetLife Bldg. (200 Park Ave, NY, NY, 212-972-7001) was recently accredited by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. Flour imported from Italy, spring water (the dough is all about the water), fresh mozzarella, and San Marzano tomatoes, baked in a wood-burning oven.

(Source: Gayot.com)

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First of all thanks for the welcome messages

Now about the topic..

JosphB wrote:

Flour imported from Italy, spring water (the dough is all about the water), fresh mozzarella, and San Marzano tomatoes, baked in a wood-burning oven.

be carefull when you read S. Marzano tomatoes. Those plum tomatoes (the original cultivar) are actually grown by very few farmers and in very small amounts in the area around Naples. What usually comes as S.Marzano is actually hybrids (which actually do not taste that bad); the big canning industry favours them as they peel much better and they have almost wiped out the original tomatoes out. If you do get real ones though they are longer than the avarage plum tomato, more seedy and as mentioned above they tend to peel badly if blanched.

In Italy you find load of fancy pizzerias stating they use S. Marzano for their pizzas, I think that only a small fraction of them do.

The main reason for this, as for the oil "problems" mentioned before, is the cloudy Italian legislation. For this reason I do not completely agree with macrosan when you/he state/s that AOC (or DOC and DOP in Italy) are foolish. I agree about pizza (or actually for most recipes) but I believe that AOC is just an instrument and as such it can be used badly or not according to who writes/applies it. AOC are IMO a good mean for small producers of local specialties to avoid wrong usage of their product name, after all they do not have the same legal/political power as big industrial lobbies. Also if properly used they can actually improve a product's quality if cleverly applied. On the other hand it can be used in very silly ways, such as some italian wines DOC that allow huge grape quantities per acre making careful producers disappear under a lake of cheap, maybe even techincaly good, bland wine.

for macrosan: did you ever taste a VPN? I mean if you don't like it I'll accept it (maybe feeling deeply offended :biggrin:) but if you haven't, just out of principle... come on give it a try, aren't you curious?

Alberto


Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.

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...I do not completely agree with macrosan when you/he state/s that AOC (or DOC and DOP in Italy) are foolish.

...

for macrosan: did you ever taste a VPN? I mean if you don't like it I'll accept it (maybe feeling deeply offended :biggrin:) but if you haven't, just out of principle... come on give it a try, aren't you curious?

Alberto

Ciao Alberto :biggrin:

Just to clarify, I am only saying that the principle of AOC/DOC is foolish in the context of generic food types and names. It's perfectly sensible for trade names, or for the specific products of individual manufacturers. But the idea that a "Pizza Napoletana" is sufficiently way definable or definitive to come within such a scheme is (in my view) crazy.

On the second point, I have had many "unofficial" VPNs in the last few years --- in Taormina, in Sorrento, and even in my local Italian restaurant in West Wickham :laugh: These are quite verace enough for me, thank you very much :smile: Since I live in the UK, I'll have to wait until I get to New York in August before I try a VPN; and if I can find one, I do promise to try it. My expectations aren't high, because I believe the great American pizza (good examples of which I thoroughly enjoy) is fundamentally different from a true Italian pizza. The only place I know of that offers a VPN is Otto (?) and my one pizza experience there was such that I will not be trying it again :huh:


Edited by macrosan (log)

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Otto can't offer VPN because it doesn't use a wood-burning oven ("The oven must be a wood burning oven and structured in a bell shape and of special brick with the floor of the pizza oven constructed of volcanic stone. The oven must be fired with only wood and kindling."). There are other issues as well, such as the automated dough-rolling machine in use at Otto, which is not permissible under VPN rules (" After rising, the dough must be shaped with the hands and without a rolling pin or any mechanical means."). Otto offers a pizza called "Margherita DOC," which I was told (not by a reliable source, mind you) is a designation that can be applied based on ingredients. In other words, VPN is ingredients plus technique; DOC is just ingredients. Maybe. Not that it's easy to get a straight answer out of anyone, and not that it would be easy to enforce proper use of the "Margherita DOC" language at a single-unit food-service operation in America.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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so can we assume that this stuff is just silly for the most part? aside from the nice wood burning ovens?

i saw mario talking about this the other night (or maybe it was someone else), and they mentioned Naples 45, which i have been to countless time for horrible meals, but never for pizza. now i want to go back for pizza. not sure if it's worth the chance, though, regardless of what the VPN has to say.

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i saw mario talking about this the other night (or maybe it was someone else), and they mentioned Naples 45, which i have been to countless time for horrible meals, but never for pizza. now i want to go back for pizza. not sure if it's worth the chance, though, regardless of what the VPN has to say.

Naples 45 has pretty good pizza, actually.


--

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If I had to make a forecast, it would be that the idea will gain force for a year or so, and within five years it will have disappeared.

It's been more than five years since this post. Where are we now with VPN?

I've been to 2 Amys in DC and thought it was excellent, but I'm still no expert.

The members list now shows four certified pizzerias in Texas, two in Dallas, two in San Antonio. I raise my eyebrow at this.

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I've been to several VPN places--one in the US, and 4 in Japan.

Although VPN places should have a certain minimum standard, of the 5 I've been to, only 2 have been great and even the quality of the crust and sauce (which should just be crushed tomatoes) varies widely. And the best Neapolitan-style pizza I've had isn't a VPN place.

Keep in mind that (from what I understand), pizza places don't have to be tested in person to meet the standards. They must only submit written statements and pictures. At least that's how I interpreted what I read (but I've seen pictures of VPN people at almost every restaurant, so I assume personal visits are made at some point).

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If I had to make a forecast, it would be that the idea will gain force for a year or so, and within five years it will have disappeared.

It's been more than five years since this post. Where are we now with VPN?

Well, thanks to the magic of the Wayback Machine we see that in February 2003, there were only nine members in the U.S. that obtained the "Verace Pizza Napoletana" certification.

As of July 2009, six years later, there appear to be over thirty U.S. members.

Um, I'd say the numbers are increasing :rolleyes:


So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money. But when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness."

So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

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It's still an oddly small group of members. The one place listed in AZ is in Tucson, and we have a couple of decent places in Phoenix like, oh say, Bianco or Metro.

My favorite Tokyo place is not on the list. Garibaldi in Gotanda is run by a chef who worked for several years at Pizzaeria Del Presidente in Naples, and was the pizzaiolo on duty when Mr. President ate his pizza there.

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Jeff Varasano commented that the best pizzerias in Naples often don't bother with VPN certification.

This I'm willing to believe (and true of the world, not just Italy).

But what I am curious is if there is VPN-certified restaurant that actually is not good. If that isn't true, then at least VPN can be a pretty useful baseline indicator of quality.

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I've eaten at two which I thought were not good enough to try again. The sauce was too acidic, the crust of one was overcooked, the other was undercooked, and both were soggy in the middle. I probably should try them again, just to make sure they weren't one-off experiences, but Neapolitan-style pizza is expensive in Japan, and I know a place where I can always get a good one.

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When I lived in Seattle, I really liked Tutta Bella. I lived in Wallingford, and one was in my neighborhood. They have several locations, and apparently they were the first in the Northwest to receive certification.

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The members list now shows four certified pizzerias in Texas, two in Dallas, two in San Antonio. I raise my eyebrow at this.

Dough in San Antonio is very good, actually.

Luciano, on the other hand, I have my (strong) doubts about.

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But what I am curious is if there is VPN-certified restaurant that actually is not good. If that isn't true, then at least VPN can be a pretty useful baseline indicator of quality.

Here's the full passage (in the section at the bottom called "The Word's Best Pizzerias":

"There is an organization called Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) that certifies that pizzerias are making authentic Neapolitan pizza. Most of these places prominently post their VPN certification, with one even claiming their certification is "an international award." However, no VPN pizzeria makes it into my top tier and several are among my bottom tier. Basically it's a marketing organization. You pay a few hundred bucks, you take a course and in a few days you are certified and can post a sign up that proves you are a great pizza maker. Yeah right. Personally, the certification means nothing to me. Certainly the best old school pizzerias don't bother with VPN."


Notes from the underbelly

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