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When the Moon Hits Your Eye
Hazel Marshall

In 1998 Britain committed a huge political gaffe when, at the start of their EU presidency, they asked a group of schoolchildren to produce a set of flags to represent all the EU countries. Each child from Britain was paired with a child from the country which their flag was to represent. Some of the pictures that they drew were popular - a mountain was used to represent Sweden and Denmark was represented by the famous Little Mermaid. But Italy was not happy with their representation - it was a pizza.

To begin with I felt some sympathy with the Italians and their feeling that they had been insulted. As they quite correctly pointed out, Britain would not have been particularly happy about being represented by a plate of fish and chips. But then I thought again and I think the Italians should be quite proud of their pizza representation. Fish and chips have never gone beyond the borders of our country. They are a quintessentially British thing and can only be eaten on a freezing cold night when the only thing that will warm your hands is digging them into the delights contained within that paper bag. But they have never been one of our greatest exports.

But pizza is different. It has a history and it has original standards against which all future pizza can be measured. It is also highly patriotic. The most famous pizza is the Pizza Margherita, created in honour of a visit by King Umberto I and Queen Margherita to Naples in 1889. Its patriotism was reflected in its colours - green from the basil, white from the mozzarella and red from the tomatoes - the colours of the Italian flag.

Pizza was created and produced long before this visit but it was this particular pizza which caused its fame to spread outwith northern Italy. The Greeks had been the first to eat flat bread with toppings but it wasn’t until Spain introduced the tomato to the rest of Europe in the 16th century that pizza took on the form that we know and love today. Despite initial fears that it was poisonous, the tomato was discovered to have a delightful flavour and became a crucial ingredient of the pizza. It was joined by the special buffalo-milk mozzarella found in certain areas around Naples to create the pizza which is now is now recognised world wide.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century pizza made that crucial leap across the Atlantic and became one of the most successful Italian exports of all time. The first ever US pizzeria was opened in New York in 1905, although it wasn’t until American GIs returned from Italy after World War II that a huge demand was created. In 1958, two students at Wichita State University started up the Pizza Hut chain and they were quickly followed in the 1960s by both the Tombstone and the Dominos brands. Today, Americans eat 350 slices of pizza every second - that’s 100 acres of pizza every day.
But are they eating true pizza? Well, according to the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the answer is no. This association has strict rules and regulations for making pizza. These include instructions with regard to ingredients - pizza dough must be made using only flour, natural or brewer’s yeast, salt and water; method - dough must be kneaded by hand or mixers which do not cause overheating and the dough must be shaped by hand; and cooking - wood burning stoves only need apply.

Recognising a true Neapolitan pizza has also become a business. Antonio Pace, owner of the Neapolitan restaurant Ciro a Santa Brigida, has started an initiative to upgrade pizza quality throughout the world. Along with Professor Carlo Mangoni di Santo Stefano, a nutritionist at the University of Naples, he has come up with ‘Pizza Discipline’ which covers not only the history of pizza but also how to make a real one. If restaurants can prove that they make and serve such true pizzas then they become eligible for a logo which they can hang in their windows. Not only does this mean following all the rules listed above but it also means using such local products as the buffalo-milk mozzarella also mentioned above. If this logo becomes recognised worldwide then this mozzarella is surely going to become an even bigger export than it already is.

The hope is that the pizza logo - which is blue, with Mount Vesuvius in the background, a red pizza with mozzarella in the centre and Pizza Napoletana written across the front will become recognised as a sign of quality. The idea is that it will have the same effect as seeing DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) on wine labels.

It is highly unlikely that that logo will be seen in any of the big chains as Pace insists that the only true pizza are marinara and Margherita. All the other toppings which have been added over the years are heresy to the true pizza lover. Pepperoni, anchovies, tuna, pineapple, even banana have all been added over the years in our quest for new toppings. But they are not the genuine toppings and will never happily sit astride a true pizza.

Pizza is a creation which is widely recognised throughout the world and is one of the most popular fast foods ever. In its country of origin it maintains its own genuine standards while the rest of us eat mutated forms of it. I think that’s something of which Italy can be genuinely proud.

© Hazel Marshall

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