Italy unveils 'World Pizza Day'

Wed, 09/06/2006 - 04:24

Naples, the city that invented pizza, has lined up the first edition of 'World Pizza Day'.

Pizza-makers and lovers from all over the world, including Neapolitans who have rolled dough into big money in the United States, Australia and Japan, will attend the inaugural event on the opening day of the city's famous Pizzafest on Thursday.

Each year Pizzafest turns out hundreds of pizzas made by pizzaioli from all over the world.

The only qualification is that they must comply with guidelines laid down by the city's Real Neapolitan PizzaAssociation (AVPN).

The event, now in its eleventh year, draws thousands of locals and tourists to sample pizza "as it should be made" in its "spiritual home".

This year it has lined up an even more scrumptious menu of attractions, including a bigger-than-ever exhibit on the history of Naples' most famous export. There will also be the annual contest for "best Neapolitan pizza-maker" - which returned to local hands in 2004 and 2005 after a Japanese pizzaiolo pipped the city's best three years ago.

AVPN President Antonio Pace says his association has no objection to pizzas being made around the world, "as long as they respect the rules".

"But to know if a pizza tastes as it should, it's better to try it at least once in Naples so you can compare it with those being produced elsewhere," he added. After more than a decade of success in Naples, Pizzafest successfully emigrated to Brussels in 2003 and similar events are planned in Paris and other European capitals.

Pace's association insists that only ingredients from the region of Campania should be used and stresses that pizza should be made in the traditional way - in a brick oven using bona fide ingredients like local mozzarella and tomato sauce.

The organization spearheaded a successful campaign to win a special European Union "traditional speciality guaranteed" (TSG) label for Neapolitan pizza. Rather than referring to the origin of the product, TSGs highlight its traditional character, either in the composition or means of production.

Although baked dough topped with various ingredients has been eaten round the world for centuries, it was only in the 1700s, after the tomato became an established part of Italian diets, that pizza in its current form really took off.

It was particularly popular in poorer quarters of Naples where the cheap, readily available ingredients made it a staple part of the local diet.

Until the mid-1800s, the pizza-maker would prepare his wares in advance and wander parts of the city advertising his arrival by calling out loud.

Then gradually, people began visiting the pizzaiolo's premises to enjoy the product fresh from the oven and the first pizzeria was born.

News of the city's celebrated pizzas eventually reached the ears of the newly created royal family in 1889. During a stay in Naples' Capodimonte Palace King Umberto I and his wife Queen Margherita summoned a much-talked about local pizzaiolo to the palace to sample his creations.

Raffaele Esposito and his wife Maria Brandi prepared a variety of different pizzas for the royal couple, but the queen's favorite was one topped with tomato, mozzarella and basil.

In recognition of the honor bestowed on him, Esposito, whose descendants still run the Brandi Pizzeria in Naples today, named the pizza after the queen.