Yesterday, I did the unthinkable: I ate a pizza in Italy somewhere other than Naples and its environs.
Most Americans — even the savvy travelers among us — think that pizza is the same all over Italy. But it's not. In fact, most of the pizza you eat outside of Campania (the region that is home to Naples, its cultural capital) has little resemblance to the classic pizza you eat in the dish's ancestral and spiritual home. In a lot of ways, the pizza that you eat in, say, Rome or Venice, may be very tasting and wholesome but it's more of a focaccia — a short bread topped with something savory — than a true pizza.
But yesterday when I arrived in Piedmont where I'll be teaching at the Slow Food University (the University of Gastronomic Sciences) this week, I was told that a new Neapolitan pizzeria had opened and that it was run by one of Naples' most famous pizzaioli families, the Picariellos.
I have to say, it was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten outside of Naples and it fired on all cylinders: Burnt outer crust, soggy middle, wholesome and authentic and utterly delicious toppings (in this case a Napoletana pizza, with salt-cured anchovies and capers).
Reading up on the Gennaro Esposito pizzeria website, the Picariellos write about how their patriarch Walter came to the Slow Food offices many years ago to deliver a seminar on authentic pizza-making. And it was because of this legacy and the family's fondness for the Slow Food movement that they decided to open an outpost here.
It's pretty unusual to see something like this: An authentic Neapolitan pizzeria in Piedmont, a region fiercely proud of its culinary traditions. I've never seen anything like it in the 30 years plus that I have been coming to Italy.
As I enjoyed every last bite of my pie, paired with a great bottle of Fiano d'Avellino (another blasphemy: Neapolitan wine in Piedmont, the home of Barolo and Barbaresco), I thought about what Pugliese winemaker Paolo Cantele once said to me.
"You're more like to find great, authentic Neapolitan pizza in LA and New York than in Italy," he told me, "unless you go to Naples."
Add Bra, Piedmont (the home of the university) to that list.
Sotto wine director (and adjunct professor at UniSG)