Real pizza is Neapolitan, having been invented and perfected in Naples in the 19thcentury and named after the queen of recently-unified Italy (the Margherita). No wonder there is an organization—the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (the True Neapolitan Pizza Association)–devoted to its propagation and protection.
The association celebrates 35 years of activity this year, and is preparing for a global pizza Olympics. The championships will be held in Naples at the beginning of the second week in July at Capodimonte, the hilltop palace and park where the monarchs spent much of the hot season. The association started in 1984 with twenty member pizzerias, and has now grown to more than 760 pizzerias, 470 pizza chefs, and six schools around the world, including a new one slated to open in Poland (surprise!) shortly.
The finalists will be chosen in various zones, beginning with Brazil in mid-March, when the South American winners will be selected. At the end of the month, the judges will travel back to Europe, where the continental champions will be determined in Frankfurt. In the next three months, finalists will be chosen in Australia, the U.S. East Coast and Canada, Japan, and in June, the U.S. West Coast and Mexico.
The finals are of course in Naples, with a special category for Under-35s, and five different kinds of pizza, ranging from the traditional Margherita (tomatoes, white mozzarella or fior di latte cheese, and basil) to gluten-free, to the recently-popular Mastunicola, with either lard or extra-virgin olive oil, basil, salty cheese, and freshly ground black pepper. Aficionados of Italian cuisine will recognize this last as the pizza version of the ever-popular spaghetti dish served in Roman trattorias for centuries.
You’d do well to make your travel plans now. My best advice is to go to Naples for the finals. The formal site is fantastic, and the city, infrequently visited by American tourists, is one of the wonders of the world. The organizers have scheduled visits to some of the city’s main attractions, and a rich smorgasbord of important pizza-related events: tastings at pizza workshops and technical seminars on proper ingredients for the finest pizzas. There will be a conference on the importance of the art of the Neapolitan pizza chef, and tastings, jointly organized with the Italian Organization of Sommeliers, of various wines with different pizzas. Last, but certainly not least, a new beer will be presented by the True Neapolitan Pizza Association.
The final night, July 10, features a celebration punningly entitled “pizza and the stars,” at which some of the leading lights of Italian culture and music will perform. That alone is worth the trip.
Pizza is an important subject, and Naples is its mother lode. If you’re lucky, your local pizzeria is certified by the Pizza Association, ensuring that you’re eating the real thing. The Pizza Olympics is a special opportunity to indulge your pizza passion. Don’t miss it!