Anyone who has ducked into a pizzeria for a piece of that doughy, cheesy, tomatoe-y pie surely understands that pizza is a treasure. Now, Italy wants to make it official. The Italian government has announced that it will officially submit Neapolitan pizza for consideration to be included on the Unesco cultural heritage list.
Today, pizza comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes—from New York City’s iconic thin-crust slices to Chicago's deep-dish variety. But the Italian government is arguing that its traditional pizza is central to the country’s identity, as well contributing roughly $11.4 billion to Italy's economy, Phoebe Hurst writes for Munchies.
While dishes made with flatbread date back to ancient Egypt, pizza is a much more recent culinary invention. As the story goes, the first pizzas were made in 1886 at Naples’ Pizzeria Brandi to honor the visit of Italy’s Princess Margherita of Savoy. This wasn’t a stuffed-crust, double-cheese pizza with toppings galore: the original Neapolitan pizza was a simple affair made with a thin crust, a coating of marinara sauce, slices of mozzarella cheese and basil leaves, Annalisa Merelli writes for Quartz.
According to the Naples-based True Neapolitan Pizza Association, a pizza can only really be considered “real pizza” if the crust is made from wheat flour, sea salt and water, kneaded by hand or with a slow mixer, and is rolled out by hand. Finally, the crust can only be a scant tenth of an inch thick before it gets the toppings. Even today, true Neapolitan pizza only comes in only two variations: Margherita (with cheese and basil) and marinara (without cheese and basil), Alberto Nardelli and George Arnett report for the Guardian.
Whether it’s pizza, Parmigiano or pasta, Italians can be fiercely protective of its traditional foods. Recently, Italian police shut down a ring of thieves that stole about $875,000 worth of precious Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese, and the Italian government has taken American companies to task for using the name “Parmesan” to describe cheeses it considers inferior. And just this month, the mayor of Verona claimed that purveyors of kebabs and fried food were diluting the city’s food culture and banned any new “ethnic restaurants” from opening—a policy that critics say is discriminatory against new immigrants.
While Unesco is most known for honoring historic sites and natural features, it does maintain a list of cultural practices and traditions. The list includes both French and Japanese cuisine, as well as more obscure traditions like Slovakian bagpipe music and Romanian lad’s dancing, Nardelli and Arnett report. If Neapolitan pizza is added to the list when Unesco officials take it into consideration next year, its pizza could also be protected as an irreplaceable piece of humanity’s global heritage.