The art of making Neapolitan pizza

Neapolitan pizza, UNESCO


By now you are more than familiar with the wide variety of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy, know many different natural and cultural landmarks and areas. Actually, there is a third list we have not been talking a lot about so far. The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity deals with cultural expressions and oral traditions, customs, feasts and crafts. Italy currently is on this list a whopping twelve times including the traditional violin craftsmanship of Cremona, transhumance in the Mediterranean and the Alps, and the Sicilian puppet theatre “Opera dei Pupi”. However, we picked one piece of intangible cultural heritage that everyone should know – pizza!

Welcome to Naples

The exact origin of the word “pizza” is unknown. Some traces lead to the Langobardic, the Arabic and Hebrew, but also to different Italian dialects. There’s “piceà” or “pizzà” in Neapolitan, translating to “pulling”, with comparable terms in the Calabrian or the Medieval Latin language. Obviously, that would fit perfectly as the history of pizza is intricately connected to Naples. Even though somewhat contrastable dishes existed as early as in the Neolithic, first modern evidence was provided by Vincenzo Corrado writing about the Neapolitan style of seasoning pizza and pasta with tomatoes between 1715 and 1725. Generally, the evolution of pizza is connected closely to the growing popularity of the tomato in Southern Italy.

Neapolitan pizza


There is many an exciting myth about the first “modern” pizza. It was supposedly made in Naples – where else! – by Raffaele Esposito on 11 June 1889. King Umberto I and his wife Margherita desired a pizza. Esposito, very patriotically, used toppings in the colours of the Italian flag – green basil, white mozzarella and red tomatoes. This version has been known as Pizza Margherita ever since, Esposito’s Pizzeria Brandi is world-famous to this day. Historians, however, have refuted this exciting tale. A newspaper article by the Washington Post from the year 1880 reports on the Queen’s liking of pizza. She had various pizza bakers deliver their goods to her before eventually selecting eight different kinds. Esposito was the only pizzaiuolo who kept the royal court’s acknowledgement of receipt.

Lived pizza tradition

A look at the narrower tradition of the Neapolitan cuisine only knows two different kinds of pizza:

  • Pizza Margherita with tomatoes, mozzarella TSG in strips, diced mozzarella, basil and olive oil
  • Pizza marinara with tomatoes, garlic, oregano and oil


Beyond that, there are many other different variations that can be traced back to Neapolitan tradition (e.g. Capricciosa, Quattro stagioni, Quattro formaggi, Calzone or Diavola), not even considering the countless special regional varieties and strange inventions with weird to bizarre toppings. However, this is not about a pizza with sausages, spaghetti or schnitzel, we are strictly talking classics.

The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana for keeping of the tradition of Neapolitan pizza was founded in 1984 in order to protect said classic in times of widespread frozen and fast food pizza. The global members of this association may call their product a “genuine Neapolitan pizza” (“Verace Pizza Napoletana”), production method and ingredients are checked regularly. The EU introduced the trademark for Pizza Napoletana in 2005 with the protection of the traditional composition / the traditional production method as “Traditional Specialties Guaranteed” (TSG). According to this, a Neapolitan pizza consists of the following ingredients:

  • Wheat flour
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Natural drinking water
  • Peeled tomatoes and/or small fresh tomatoes
  • Sea salt or cooking salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil


There are some further optional ingredients that can be used as well during pizza baking, namely:

  • Garlic
  • Oregano
  • Fresh basil
  • Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP or mozzarella TSG


It is only baked in wood fire ovens reaching the important baking temperature of 485 °C. Furthermore, the cooking time must not exceed 60 to 90 seconds. The slightly thicker crust is another classic characteristic of the Neapolitan pizza.

A festive day for pizza consumption

The Neapolitan pizza and the art of the pizza baker was added to the coveted intangible cultural heritage list on 7 December 2017. Free pizza was served throughout the city to mark the occasion, December 7th has been a Neapolitan holiday ever since accompanied by a multifaceted, multi-day programme with talks, cooking shows and ceremonial acts. This should not be a surprise with about 3,000 pizzaiuoli in this region, not even counting the many amateur pizza bakers.

If you are now wondering about the right way to eat a pizza, Enzo Coccia, one of Naples’ most prominent pizza legends, has the answer for you – fold twice like a wallet. This way you can taste the flavour of the dough, the mozzarella and the olive oil. The tomato sauce cannot drip out and you get all taste components in a single bite. Cheers!

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