Pizza is one the most popular foods in the world. The dish’s perfect blend of bread, sauce, and cheese creates a delicious whole that far surpasses the sum of its parts. Adored by nearly everyone who tries it, pizza also has a rich history. This post will detail the history of pizza--including where pizza came from, how it’s evolved, and where it’s going in the future.
The Birth of Pizza in Naples, Italy
The precursor to pizza was an Italian bread product called Focaccia. Similar to pizza dough, Focaccia is a flatbread that’s seasoned with olive oil and salt then baked. More complex versions of Focaccia feature herbs, vegetables, and cheese. Focaccia is most associated with Ligurian cuisine and today mostly serves as an appetizer.
In the late 18th century, bakers started combining tomatoes with cheese as toppings on focaccia. And like that, pizza was born. The official birthplace was Naples, Italy, and the city quickly became a tourist attraction as a result of its culinary marvel. The dish was sold by street vendors and pizza bakeries.
Today, Naples is still known as one of the premier pizza cities in the world. But many of the city’s bakers remain pizza purists. They only offer margherita and marinara pizzas. While both those pies are delicious, they might not satisfy all pizza lovers. Luckily, there are plenty of other pizzerias that will.
The Evolution of Pizza Toppings
It took about 100 years for pizza to make its way from Naples to the United States. Italian immigrants in the late 19th century popularized the dish in cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Lombardi’s in Manhattan’s Little Italy was founded in 1905 and is widely accepted to be the first American pizzeria. The term “Pepperoni” first appeared in print in 1919, and the cured meat soon became the pizza topping of choice in America. Although it was similar to salami, pepperoni didn’t require the same precise climate and was easier to store. Today, pepperoni can be found on more than 1/3 of pizzas.
The next big step in the evolution of pizza took place in Chicago, Illinois. The year was 1943, and people were ready for a bigger, bolder pizza pie. The Chicago deep dish pizza gave them just that. The pizza featured extra deep crust that was more like a pie than a focaccia. It was baked in a round pan and had an extra-thick layers of toppings. The toppings are piled atop cheese then cooked. Uncooked sauce is often added atop the finished product. The deep dish pizza continues to be one of the most popular pies available.
While New Haven, Connecticut’s famed Pepe’s Pizzeria opened in 1925, it wouldn’t be until the 1950’s that the restaurant invented its renowned clam pizza pie. The clam pizza was a groundbreaking feat, but only a sign of things to come. Because in 1962, the Hawaiian Pizza would be invented. Not in Hawaii, but in Ontario, Canada of all places. Featuring pineapple and ham, this polarizing pizza pie paved the way for future untraditional toppings.
Also in 1962, the world was introduced to frozen pizza. Pizza lovers would no longer have to order pies or venture out to pizzerias. They could simply buy pizza products from the grocery store, put them in their home freezers, and cook them when ready. The introduction of frozen pizza has led to similar advancements like pizza rolls and hot pockets.
In the 50 years since the Hawaii Pizza and frozen pizza were debuted, the dish has undergone an evolution that its Naples forefathers could not have possibly imagined. These days, almost anything can be thrown atop a pizza and someone will be there to gobble it up. Pizza is just that delicious.
The first types of ovens used to cook pizzas were wood-fired or coal-fired. These pizza ovens were made with fireproof brick, stone, clay, or concrete. And believe it or not, similar ovens are still available today. Some run on natural gas, but others use traditional fire. These modern wood-fired ovens give pizza a natural smoky flavor.
The more popular ovens that you’ll see at pizzerias are pizza deck ovens. Since they have multiple decks, these ovens are capable of cooking several pizza pies at the same time. That makes these ovens ideal for pizzerias that tend to get large orders for delivery.
The World’s Largest Pizza
In December 2012, the evolution of the pizza pie peaked when the largest pizza pie on record was debuted in Rome, Italy. The location was appropriately just a couple hours north of pizza’s original birthplace in Naples. The record-breaking pizza pie measured a mind-boggling 13,580.28 sq. ft. That converts to a little less than 1/3 of an acre! Prepared by four chefs, the gluten-free pizza was named “Ottavia” in tribute to Rome’s first emperor. It weighed an absurd 51,257 pounds and took 48 hours to bake.
The Future… and Beyond
It might seem like we’ve pushed the pizza pie as far as it can go. But if the past has taught us anything, it’s to never underestimate man’s love of pizza. The future will surely lead to even more innovative pizza toppings. And it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see the record for the world’s largest pizza broken. Especially now that robots might help bake the pie.
Written by J. Vigotsky