Pizza’s history may seem simple. It starts in Italy and migrates to NYC, right? Turns out, it’s far more complicated and fascinating!
I recently attended a deliciously fantastic and enthusiastic pizza tour, run by Scott himself of Scott’s Pizza Tours in NYC. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an alternative way to show your friends around NYC—potentially even avoiding a double decker bus tour—but in the meantime a little history can help you enjoy just where your pizza came from.
Forcella was our first stop. This is authentic Italian pizza from the town of Naples (or Napoli), where pizza was invented. It was originally eaten by folding it in half once, and then again, with the crusts facing up and the center of the circle at the bottom, like a crepe.
Forcella (on Bowery & Bond, Manhattan) lets their dough rise for 24 hours, leaving air in the crust and creating a lighter, softer, chewier crust. The oven is made from special bricks from Serrano, Italy, and is powered by a wood-burning fire. In Naples, Italy, wood is the cheapest because it burns longer at hotter temps, so they could cook pizzas faster and therefore sell more. Pizzas are cooked for about a minute or less, toppings and all, because the oven is over 800 degrees!
The first pizza toppings were lard, bacon. Tomato came later—people thought it was poisonous in Europe even after it got there. Cheese is the most expensive so it was the last topping. It wasn’t until 1899 that Queen Margherita lent her name to that great pizza by choosing cheese and tomato as her favorite toppings.
The founder of the famous Lombardi’s in NYC came over from Naples, Italy in the late 1890’s but all he brought was “the concept of pizza,” according to Scott. He had to switch to coal instead of wood because it was cheaper. The oven was bigger, making the cook time longer. And the ingredients changed, since different continents host different tomatoes, flour, and animals which produce different cheeses. This creates a denser, crispier and flatter slice at Lombardi’s than you’d find in Naples, Italy.
Finally, in the 1950’s a gas oven became more common, allowing for even lower cooking temperatures and even longer cook times. Pizzerias could actually reheat slices in their ovens, allowing them to reheat and sell a single slice at a time. Cool, right? There are so many more fun facts (and so much pizza to be eaten) on Scott’s tours. Visit his site to book!
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