Guest Columns
Let the Buyer Beware!
John Arena

Lately I’ve been thinking about "counterfeiters."  More specifically, I’ve been thinking about a Latin saying that dates back to the early 1500’s, Caveat Emptor, or, "Let the buyer beware." In this era, more than any other, it has become crucial that we understand what is truly behind the labels on the products that we buy. Unfortunately this is especially true of Italian products.  With global awareness creating unprecedented demand for Italian food items the door has swung open for all sorts of deception and outright fraud.


Here is something to think about: The country of Italy is roughly the size of Arizona. Italy has a food based culture. Plain and simple, the Italians can consume much of the highest quality

 
Creativity and Modern Times
Joseph Pergolizzi

A couple days ago, I was doing some work on my laptop at a little cafe in Boulder.  Taking a sip from my Cafe Americano, I looked up to realize I was surrounded by people who seemed completely hypnotized by the light of their computers.  Then a group of high school students came through the line, texting and talking away.  With a quick swipe of a credit card the baristas had them out the door and on their way.  I couldn't help thinking, "My, how things have changed!"

These modern developments have, no doubt, allowed us to be more efficient in many ways.  Still, I have to wonder, what have these times done to the quality of our creative output? How will these

 
Report from the Vegas Pizza Expo
John Arena

I’m not sure who was working at the world’s great pizzerias the first week in March, because it is clear that for a brief time the center of the pizza universe was the Las Vegas Convention Center. The International Pizza Expo has always been the premier event for professional pizza makers, but this year the show has improved to an astonishing degree. It has become a place where mozzarella d’ buffalo can coexist with kangaroo pepperoni, and both can be accepted with respect and open mindedness.

This was a real gathering of the tribes, with just about every pizza style and preference represented, including some variations I had never seen before. Finalists in the pizza competition included a unique Detroit style pan pizza that had a charred edge, created by inserting shredded mozzarella between the pan and the dough before baking (as shown in the photo). Over 900 different exhibitors were on hand to display, demonstrate and distribute samples of their products. 6400 pizza makers were in attendance, and this year everyone remarked about the level of enthusiasm and optimism that prevailed.

In what was once a fragmented and secretive industry, pizza pros from all over the world freely

 
Pizza, Healthy Pizza?
Tom Carrig

Lately I’ve been thinking about how pizza gets a bad rap in the world of nutrition.  Specifically, I find it irritating that pizza, all pizza, is largely dismissed as “junk food.”

Don’t get me wrong, as a nutrition professional I love the work that folks like Jamie Oliver are doing out there.  We need to think more about the things we put into our mouths that fall under the increasingly vague category of food.  But Jamie, like many others, flippantly tosses pizza into the junk food bucket as an evil to be avoided, certainly something to be kept out of the reach of

 
History on a Plate
John Arena

Lately I’ve been thinking about my ninth grade history class. What I recall most vividly was that at the time I had almost no interest in world history. Like a lot of kids that age, I wasn’t looking much at the past, and I really couldn’t understand what all that old stuff had to do with my life. You see, by the age of 15 I had already spent several years in front of an oven and was pretty sure that I was destined to be a pizza guy.
As it turns out my lack of interest in world history had nothing to do with the subject and everything to do with context. If I truly understood that what I was learning was actually the history of pizza, I would have definitely aced the class and saved my parents and my teacher a lot of aggravation.

What it took me several decades to figure out is that every time we eat a slice of pizza we are holding the history of western civilization in our hands. More importantly, every time we make a pizza, we are connecting directly to a string of world changing events going back thousands of years. It is that connection that we must reflect upon and honor if we are to perpetuate our art.

So, let’s take a look at the object of our mutual obsession, the famous Pizza Margherita. While creationist myths can sometimes take on a life of their own, it’s safe to say that the cheese and tomato pizza did not just spring fully-formed from the talented hands of Raffaelo Esposito.
We begin with the most ethereal of all pizza components, the dough. Mix a batch of dough and you are replicating the staple food source that, along with the cultivation of wheat, allowed ancient Egyptians to evolve from nomadic hunter gatherers to builders of great cities. While the Egyptians may not have visited southern Italy the Greeks definitely did, and they brought with them the bread-baking techniques they had acquired when ambitious young Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and put his own people in place as the last Pharaohs.

Next we have that most Italian of fruit/vegetables, the tomato. By now we all know that the tomato is strictly a new world product brought to Europe by Spanish explorers. So how did the tomato end up becoming the ubiquitous symbol of southern Italian cooking? Well, in the maze of European politics that has always included war, betrayal, intermarriage, and Church sponsored intrigue, 15th century Naples was actually ruled by the Spanish who introduced the novel “pomadoro” to Campania where it still thrives on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. In fact the first cookbook to include tomato recipes was published in Naples in the 1600’s.

And now for the mozzarella -- and by that we mean mozzarella d’buffala, the incomparable cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo, an animal that originates in Southeast Asia and definitely didn’t walk to Italy by itself. Depending on your world view, the water buffalo was either brought to the Mezzogiorno by Crusaders returning from their invasion of the Holy Land or by Arab aggressors who had invaded Sicily. Either way, to the good fortune of pizza eaters everywhere, mozzarella d’buffala is a direct result of the clash of religious ideologies that exists to this very day.
Ideally we take these delicious ingredients and place them in a wood burning oven that is identical to the many ovens found in the iconic ruins of Pompeii. These beautifully preserved ovens, with their domed chambers and stone masonry could have only been created by the Romans, inventors of both the arch and concrete.

Now finish that wonderfully blistered pizza with some basil, an herb that originated in India and made its way to the West with traders as a seasoning, a medicine and a religious component.

And there it is: a food that combines conquest, exploration, trade, religious upheaval, colonization, and political ambition. So what part of this is Italian? The fact is that it was only on the Italian peninsula that all of those elements could come together to combine with that most Italian of all characteristics, creativity, to form the Pizza Margherita -- history on a plate.

 
Does Practice Really Make Perfect?
John Arena

Lately I’ve been thinking about pizza and the industrial revolution. Ok, I know we think of pizza making as a craft or even an art form, but let’s face it; before the recent artisan pizza renaissance the state of pizza was in pretty sorry shape. So how did something that was an expression of individuality in the hands of a great pizza maker like Antonio Pero (founder of Totonno’s) become a mass produced commodity, and more importantly how do we prevent that from happening again?

Well, I think the answer lies in practice, or more specifically, understanding the difference between practice and repetition. From early childhood we are told that “practice makes perfect”. We are led

 

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