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Ask any Italian in Seattle about the topic of pizza and it will certainly cause a fair amount of debate. Some of us have our favorites, our guilty pleasures and some might say good pizza outside of Italy doesn't exist. “De gustibus non est disputandum”, an old Latin maxim says, "In matters of taste, there can be no disputes", and it cannot be more appropriate when we talk about pizza in Seattle.
In the Emerald City there has been an explosion of pizza places in the last few years and there are choices for any taste: Chicago style, New York style, sour dough flour, organic gluten-free, brick oven wood fire pizza and Neapolitan pizza. It goes without saying that Italians will often opt for the last one.
In Italy, pizza is synonyms with simplicity. From a teenagers first date at a pizzeria, to friends and family finding themselves during the week enjoying a delicious soft, well-cooked and fragrant Margherita when they would rather not cook. In other words, pizza in Italy is rarely fussy, complicated or over-done. Despite its simple ingredients, everyone expects pizza to be done well and Italians (specifically from Napoli) consider themselves to be the best judges. In fact it's an antonomasia to say that Italians are the best judges of pizza, since they invented it.
What does it really mean Neapolitan pizza?
Obviously the name comes from Naples, the birthplace of pizza and a pizza made in the Neapolitan way means that it follows the strict standards of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana or VPN for short. VPN focuses on four fundamental aspects of the process of making Neapolitan pizza: ingredients, production, cooking method and finished product.
Ingredients are extremely important since they define the product itself (I leave production, cooking and final product for some other time). First of all the flours used to make the dough have to be Tipo “00” (type 00), a low gluten flour. Second, tomatoes used as base of the pizza must exclusively come from San Marzano.
This type of tomato grows in South of Italy and contains a lower acid level that produces a perfect flavor with the heat of the wood-fired oven. Many people might think that cheese is the main ingredient: readers please, “Non confondiamo il diavolo con l’acqua santa”, in other words, “let’s not confuse devil with the holy water”. Cheese is important and Italians would assert only fresh mozzarella, whole milk “fior di latte” is allowed. Fresh ingredients are obvious when talking about great pizza, but it is fundamental to have filtered, chemical-free water and natural yeast.
Thankfully it is possible to find VPN certified pizza in Seattle.
Tutta Bella and Via Tribunali, to name a few, do offer pizza that follow some of the traditions of Neapolitan style pizza.
Even if they differ in restaurant style; Tutta Bella (five locations) has a feeling of a family style pizza joint, while Via Tribunali (four location in Seattle, plus one in Portland and one in New York) has more a lounge vibe, both of them serve certified Neapolitan pizza.
Delicious and authentic Neapolitan style pizza can also be found at Queen Margherita in Magnolia, a gem of a pizza place for Italians pizza lovers.
The VPN certification is a great way to set up guidelines of authenticity in the world of pizza making and it follows a certain tendency that Italians like regarding an approach to fresh ingredients.
Besides VPN, there are other sets of Italian laws enacted in 1955 to protect the names, origins, production methods and characteristics of Italian food and wine. Here are some of most important food denominations that we find on Italian products imported in United States: D.O.C stands for "Denominazione di Origine Controllata" (Original Location Certified), D.O.P. Denom-inazione d'Origine Protetta, (protected designation of origin), I.G.T. meaning "Indicazione Geografica Tipica", translated as Protected Geographic Indication and used especially for wine. Look for these denominations on packaged products at local or specialty food stores.
Denominations don't necessary guarantee an excellent product, although they are still important recognitions to look at when we choose what we buy.
In the same way VPN, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana cannot guarantee good pizza if there is an inexpert pizzaiolo behind the brick oven. At the same time, it certainly makes us feel better that the owners of the restaurant are making a strong intention to follow traditional ways of creating this unique (yet simple) savory pie.