The Wood-Fired Blog

Contemplating the Ovens of Napoli

The folks responsible for building the Vera Pizza Napoletana brand have done a really good job, and over the past few years, awareness of Pizza Napoletana, wood-fired ovens from Naples and Caputo flour has skyrocketed. Which is a really good thing — both for the companies that make Pizza Napoletana related products (including Forno Bravo) and for consumers. There is a growing number of pizzerias in the U.S. and around the world that are making really good pizza. And while the number of VPN certified pizzeria’s isn’t very large, the number of top-notch wood-fired pizzeria has been growing steadily, as has the number of restaurants who are genuinely trying to make a really good pizza in a gas-fired oven, or even a hot deck oven.

All of which is a really good thing.

Recently, though, a number of events have conspired to make me think a little more about the pizza ovens of Naples, how Vera Pizza Napoletana and the Forni Napoletani inter-relate, and what, exactly, is a Naples style pizza oven. After all, while all Vera Pizza Napoletana is wood-fired, but not all wood-fired pizza is Vera Pizza Napoletana, and all Vera Pizza Napoletan is good, but not all good pizza is Vera Pizza Napoletana. And lots of VPN certified pizza (a large majority in the US) is baked in ovens that were not made in Naples and are not designed not in the Naples design — low dome, built-in hood, center vent.

The events that got me thinking are the work that Forno Bravo is doing on our upcoming Pizza Map, a couple of postings on a hobby pizza web site, and an upcoming new product from Forno Bravo — which I will explain in more detail in a minute.

We’ve been working hard on the Forno Bravo Pizza Map, and I have been spending a lot of time research pizzerias. It’s been interesting getting to know the restaurant scene in different cities across the US (and soon around the world), and in a way I feel as though I have been transported across the country through web sites, menus, photos, restaurant reviews, “best-of” articles, mission statements from restaurant owners, and user comments.  And I have seen photos of lots of commercial pizza ovens. It’s been a wonderful experience and I feel as though I have learned a great deal.

At roughly the same time, we launched the Forno Bravo Strada60, a wonderful small, portable oven that does a great job of baking 90 second, wood-fired pizza — so in our marketing materials we say that it does a nice job of baking Pizza Napoletana. Which I think it fair. But our new product led to Forno Bravo being the topic of conversation on a hobby pizza web site, and whether a small oven can bake Pizza Napoletana, or Vera Pizza Napoletana, or even whether an oven made in the US, or a pre-cast oven, can bake Pizza Napoletana.

Does Vera Pizza Napoletana need to be baked in an oven made in Naples by an Italian builder using raw volcanic materials from Mt. Vesuvius? It’s a great marketing story and the local press really likes it, but I don’t think it’s true.

What is it about the oven that really matters? I would argue that the design and performance characteristics of the oven and the cooking environment are what is truly important — proper oven dome height and shape, the proper oven opening size and dimension, the thickness, density and mineral composition of the oven dome and floor, the efficiency and thickness of the oven insulation, and the oven ventilation design are the real issues. Not the providence of the insulation, the mortar or the builder. And we work very hard on oven design and performance.

We are also proud to be part of the Pizza Napoletana movement. We were the first company to sell Caputo pizzeria flour to the US homeowner market, we did the first translation of the original VPN proposal to the US into English, we provide many resources to help people learn proper Pizza Napoletana technique, and we are proud that our ovens are designed to provide a great Pizza Napoletana cooking experience. And we are just getting started.

All of which leads me to a fun new, and as of now unreleased, product. Check out the photo below, and you will see an in-progress, prototype for a Napoli-style oven for backyard cooking. Check out the great dome shape and the traditional center vent. Stay tuned for more details.