Pizza Makers, Italy’s New Endangered Species?

A wood-fire oven is key to making perfect pizza in Italy

“Aromatic, cheesy, delectable…,” words that expressed my first taste of Margherita pizza in Naples. Did I forget to mention unforgettable?

Neapolitan pizza could easily be my addiction. Each time I prepare a return visit, I’m dreaming of a pizza feast again. Italy has the edge on the essence of what a pizza was born to be. As it should, since Italy is the mother of this delicious invention.

So what’s the problem? As an iconic attraction that has represented Italy in a mouth-watering fashion for years, pizza has lost its luster….to the young Italians, that is.

Italian schools today are not preparing students for traditional trades, particularly manual jobs such as pizza makers, tailors, carpenters and electricians. These jobs have lost their prestige among the younger generation of Italians. It has been the foreign pizza makers that have recently helped to keep the traditional pizza making alive in Italy.

Check out these statistics ~ 

According to Italy’s Accademia Pizzaioli (Academy of Pizza Makers).

* Around 4 in 10 pizza makers in Italy are non-Italian.

* At least 100,000 are employed in pizza making plus additional 50,000 on weekends.

* Of the total, 65,000 are Italian while approx. 20,000 are from Egypt and 10,000 from Morocco.

* Currently, there are some 6,000 vacant pizza-making jobs across the sector.

* Italy has an annual average consumption rate of 7.6 kg per person second only to the U.S. with an average of 13 kg. per person.

* In Italy, pizza is big business…there are approximately 63,000 pizzerias bringing in some 10 billion euros in yearly revenues.

* Daily, Italy churns out 5 million pizzas which total 1 1/2 billion each year, according to Coldiretti, Italy’s largest agricultural association.

* Almost half of young Italians are unemployed but few want to make pizzas for a living.

As a result, Italy has chosen Neapolitan pizza as its sole candidate for protection under UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list for the 2015-2016 cycle. They feel strongly that urgent measures are necessary to keep the art of Neapolitan pizza alive.

The Italian National Commission for UNESCO decided to recognize the art of Neapolitan pizza makers in tribute to their culinary skills and their place in the world’s gastronomic traditions. 

Pizza makers in Antica Pizzeria  brandi in Naples
Pizza makers in Antica Pizzeria
Brandi, Naples (photo courtesy of Susan Spano, L.A. Times)

This last March in Naples, Pizza makers at Antica Pizzeria Brandi baked the first Neapolitan ‘DOC’ (controlled designation of origin) pizza intended to be the symbol of the upcoming Expo world fair in Milan. This will be done through the initiative of Coldiretti. The pizza is composed of local traditional specialties which include buffalo mozzarella from Campania, San Marzano tomatoes, Vesuvius cherry tomatoes, and extra virgin olive oil from Sorrento. All of these products are protected under the EU’s system of geographical indications.

The Neapolitan pizza has been around for quite a while. It was invented in Naples between 1715 and 1725, followed by the Margherita pizza in June of 1889. Allegedly, Italy’s iconic Margherita pizza topped with tomato, mozzarella and basil was first created for Margherita of Savoy, Queen consort of the Kingdom of Italy.

Neapolitan pizza ready for the wood-fire oven

Characteristics of Neapolitan pizza include dough cooked in wood-burning ovens, with a crunchy but tender consistency of the crust, and by it’s lightly acidic tomato taste, along with the addition of oregano, garlic, basil and fresh mozzarella. The base should be no more than an eighth of an inch thick and cooked between 60 and 90 seconds in a stone oven with an oak-wood fire. The role of the pizza maker, or pizzaiolo, and the wood-fire oven also contribute to the success of the Neapolitan pizza.

The ingredients, red, white and green, were supposedly intended to represent the colors of the Italian flag.

“The pizza symbolizing Expo aims to valorize national identity in a situation in which almost two in three pizzas are obtained from a mix of flour, tomato, mozzarella and oil coming from thousands of kilometers away without any indication for consumers,” Coldiretti said. “Inclusion of pizza in the UNESCO list protects a business that generates 10 billion euros in Italy alone, in the roughly 63,000 pizzerias and take-away joints, outlets serving pizza by the slice and providing home delivery.”

Naples is determined to maintain its reputation as the spiritual home of one of the world’s favorite foods. I couldn’t be happier!

Do you have any special memories of eating authentic Italian, or Neapolitan pizza? I would love to read your thoughts…..

Article Sources ~

* Some Four in 10 of Italy’s pizza makers are foreign ~ ANSA

* Milan EXPO pizza created in Naples