What is Neapolitan Pizza?

Steeped in Italian tradition, the Neapolitan style is considered by many to be the golden standard of pizza. Those who return from a trip to Italy – particularly, the southern regions of Italy – can’t help but to spread its gospel, and for good reason.

Here’s why you should consider the delicious and historically-significant Neapolitan pizza for your next meal:  

Who invented the Neapolitan pizza?

The Neapolitan pizza was invented in Naples (of course) in the late 1800s. Oven-baked flatbreads were popular long before then, but the other key pizza ingredients did not come into the picture until much later.

Tomatoes first appeared in Europe when explorers brought them home from voyages in the 16th century. For a long time, they were feared to be poisonous by Europeans and were predominantly eaten by peasants in Naples. The well-off citizens of southern Italy did not give the tomato much attention until peasants started pairing these mysterious red orbs with bread. This gave way to the Marinara pizza – a simple preparation of bread and tomatoes – which was prepared by the wives of fisherman.

The Neapolitan pizza we know today is believed to be the creation of baker Raffaele Esposito. In 1889, Savoy’s King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited Naples and Esposito welcomed them by baking a pizza with red tomatoes, white mozzarella, and green basil to showcase the colors of the flag and the region’s finest flavors.

This pie, dubbed the “Margherita pizza,” still remains the most frequently ordered version of the Neapolitan pie.

How is a Neapolitan pizza made?

Over time, pizzaiolos have made modifications to the Neapolitan pizza, but the Naples’ Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (the “Association for true Neapolitan pizza”) is a group that is keen on upholding the traditional recipe. The VPN lays out the requirements for a Neapolitan pizza over the course of an 11-page document, but it’s probably best to just pass you the cliff notes.

The dough of a Neapolitan pizza is made with highly refined wheat flour, fresh yeast, water and salt. The tomatoes, they say, must be D.O.P. certified, meaning that they are confirmed to be grown and packaged in Italy. The AVPN also recommends that the oven be set to 905° F, which cooks the pizza in a matter of minutes. Beyond that, the Verace Pizza Napoletana (“VPN”) label recognizes only the Marinara and Margherita variations.

The most important aspect of the Neapolitan pie is undoubtedly the crust, which is just a bit crispy and a whole lot chewier than other varieties of pizza that have been popularized throughout America. The ultra-hot temperature of the oven gives the crust a series of small dark spots which give the dough a mild and charred flavor.

Should I only eat AVPN-approved Neapolitan pizzas?

The AVPN’s mission to preserve the tradition of the Neapolitan pie is honorable, but their stamp of approval is not the be all and end all for pizza. It’s impressive for any pizzeria in Italy, the United States, or elsewhere in the world to meet those stringent standards, but there are tons of restaurants serving phenomenal Neapolitan pizzas that do not follow the AVPN’s guidelines to a T or pay thousands of dollars in required fees to the organization.   

To find a truly excellent Neapolitan pizza, follow your nose, look for the trademark charred spots on the crust, and check out the user review score on Slice.

Why isn’t my Neapolitan pizza sliced?

Speaking of Slice(s), you may be wondering why your Neapolitan pizza has not been divvied up. In Italy, Neapolitan pizzas are typically served whole and uncut, and some American places adhere to the same principles.  

Leaving the pizza whole is more than just a stylistic choice. The sauce and cheese of the Neapolitan pizza give off a whole lot of liquid, which makes the pizza wet in the center. Slicing a Neapolitan pie can cause the residual pizza juice to spill over, making the crust soggy by the time it reaches the customer.

“Soggy” and “wet” are rarely descriptors that you want to hear for a pizza, but that’s not the case here. In fact, wetness is often a hallmark of a quality Neapolitan pizza and diners do not mind DIY slicing or utilizing utensils when needed.

In the U.S., pizzaiolos tend to take some of the water out of the tomatoes, which cuts down on the overall volume of liquid and allows for pre-slicing. But, even if it’s is not partitioned, this is a pizza that’s worth the effort of using a fork and knife.

Why does Neapolitan pizza have less cheese than other types of pizza?

The OG Neapolitan pizzas are minimally topped with cheese covering less than half of the pie’s surface area. Even if you’re an ardent lover of cheese (who isn’t?), this shouldn’t be the cause of dismay. Less cheese allows the brightness of the tomatoes and the flavor of the fermented dough to shine through, resulting in a truly memorable eating experience.

Where can I get a Neapolitan pizza?

Even if you’re a 12-hour flight away from Italy, there’s probably a pizzeria serving Neapolitan-style pizza near you.

Just remember: Neapolitan pizzas are roughly 12-inches in diameter, so you may want to order one per person. And that’s fine because, frankly, you’ll want a whole pie all to yourself anyway.

— Zach Links is an L.A.-based sports journalist who is equally concerned with the outcome of the game and what he’ll be eating at halftime. In addition to serving as a staff writer for The Sauce, he’s also the lead writer and editor of ProFootballRumors.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ZachLinks and on Instagram @FatZachLinks.