What is Vera Pizza Napoletana?
Vera Pizza Napoletana is a movement whose goal is to promote and protect the name and the product Pizza Napoletana; a style of pizza and tradition found in Naples. The term Vera, or Verace, means true, genuine, or real. The movement does not have a single voice, but rather is supported by a range of organizations, including trade associations, restaurants, equipment and ingredient producers, trainers and schools. Supporters include the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (Naples) and their U.S. partner Verace Pizza Napoletana Americas (Los Angeles), Antico Molino Caputo (Naples), Italy's finest and most famous pizza flour producer, and Pizza Consulting (Naples), Italy's premier pizzaiolo training school.
The movement gained visibility in 2004, when the VPN Association worked with the Italian Ministry of Agriculture to present Pizza Napoletana to the European Union as a protected food product, similar to cheese, olive oil or wine. The resulting press coverage in the United State created a stir, and today, Vera Pizza Napoletana claims to be DOC (Denominazione d' Origine Controllata), the same status as Chianti Classico.
Pizza Napoletana itself is one of the world's finest prepared food products. It is truly wonderful.
How large is the VPN movement?
While there is great love for Pizza Napoletana around the world, and many of us take frequent trips to Naples primarily for the food, the VPN brand itself is very small, and very fragmented. Unlike wine, cheese, or olive oil, where there are strict production rules, and a government seal and tracking number are printed on every product, Pizza Napoletana production is impossible to control, and there is no government-based system for certifying pizzerias. While the Verace Pizza Napoletana trade association has created its own certification system, it is voluntary, and membership is tiny and primarily in Naples, with only a few hundred members globally (including about 15 pizzerias in the United States). On the other hand, there are many thousands of pizzerias throughout Italy listing Pizza Napoletana DOC on menus every day, without certification. For example, there are scores of wood-fired pizzerias in Florence, including many that claim to make Pizza Napoletana DOC, but only two VPN-certified pizzerias.
It also important to bear in mind that there are 15 other professional pizza, pizzeria and pizzaiolo trade associations in Italy -- in addition to VPN, including the Associazione Pizzaioli Napoletani, and that many important Pizza Napoletana supporters are not Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana members.
Is this good, or bad?
It's a good thing. For the American or British pizzeria owner, while this market landscape presents a challenge, it also presents an excellent opportunity to interpret Pizza Napoletana in a way that works for you, your business and your customers. You can treat VPN as a philosophy; a series of guidelines; or as a strict set of rules; and you can choose to either leverage VPN certification to your advantage, and take advantage of the marketing opportunities it provides, or you can ignore it. The choice is yours.
Whatever you choose, this is all good news. The Vera Pizza Napoletana movement has done a good job of raising visibility for Pizza Napoletana, Italian pizza as a whole, and Artisan pizza of all stripes, and has helped everyone -- pizzeria owners and their customers -- focus on ingredients, technique, quality and a better pizza.
What are the basic VPN Guidelines?
They really are pretty simple.
1. A Wood-Burning Oven: Pizza Napoletana must be cooked in a wood-fired dome oven operating at roughly 800ºF.
2. Proper Ingredients: Tipo 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, all natural Fior di Latte or Bufala mozzarella, fresh basil, salt and yeast -- only fresh, all-natural, non-processed ingredients.
3. Proper Technique: Your pizza dough must be kneaded either by hand, or with a low speed mixer. No mechanical dough shaping is allowed, such as a dough press or rolling pin, and proper pizza preparation. Pizza baking time should not exceed 90 seconds.
Can I bake Vera Pizza Napoletana in a Forno Bravo oven?
Yes, absolutely. Both the Forno Bravo Modena2G and Professionale oven are designed to operate continuously at 800ºF, and cooking 90-second pizza all day. As I enjoy pointing out, the Sales Director for the company that produces the Ristorante oven lives in Naples, and the company is very successful selling pizza ovens in Naples, and in the south of Italy.
Do I have to buy a pizza oven made in Naples to bake VPN-certified pizzeria?
Of course not. There are VPN-certified restaurants all over the world baking in "modern" wood-fired ovens, a majority of which are made in Italy.
What is a "'modern" Italian wood-fired oven?
A modern Italian pizza oven is constructed using high-tech refractory materials, pre-cast oven pieces and space-age insulators. The refractory materials are designed to efficiently reach and hold 800ºF and are made from discrete, engineered components, not natural clay. The pre-cast pieces are made using forms to achieve the perfect oven shape, rather than individual bricks. Woven ceramic blanket and compressed calcium-silicate board insulation are many times more efficient than traditional materials used in the site-built ovens found in Naples, including sand, clay and tufa. The result is that Forno Bravo commercial ovens easily hold the 800ºF necessary to bake Pizza Napoletana, while using less fuel and requiring less effort by the pizzaiolo.
Do you have to bake at 900ºF to make VPN-Certified pizza?
No. The VPN Americas web site specifically says you should cook at 800ºF. Other Pizza Napoletana sources recommend different figures, with some recommending 750ºF, and others recommending a range between 750ºF-825ºF. While the VPN Naples web site does recommend 900ºF on the cooking floor and 825ºF in the cooking dome, it is important to note that here are many VPN-certified pizzerias baking in the 700ºs. There is a lot more to Pizza Napoletana that a single temperature, and what really matters is reaching the wood-fired heat necessary to bake pizza in the 90 seconds that everyone agrees is the right amount of time. Any longer than that, you you pizza will dry out and become tough and chewy.
Where do I learn how to make Pizza Napoletana?
You have four choices:
1. Forno Bravo offers on-site Pizza Napoletana restaurant design and training services in the U.S. Our team has experience designing, opening and operating successful Pizza Napoletana restaurants, we are Pizza Napoletana trained with Pizza Consulting in Naples, and we have established processes for transferring that skill and capability to American pizzerias. On-site training is important, as it teaches pizzerias how to make world-class pizza in their kitchen, using their equipment -- not someone else's.
2. You can travel to Naples to train with a Pizza Consulting. The basic course lasts three weeks, and it is an invaluable experience. Enzo Coccia is the master pizzaiolo trainer, and he has a well-earned global reputation. His pizzaiolo school is challenging, and it is highly recommended. You should make sure to arrange for a translator to be available if your Italian is limited.
3. You can travel to Los Angeles to take the three-day, or one-week course from VPN Americas.
4. There are other pizza training schools in Italy.
How do I set up a Pizza Napoletana pizzeria?
There are many aspects to creating a world-class Pizza Napoletana pizzeria, including kitchen design and layout; equipment selection, including ovens, mixers, work surfaces and refrigeration; pizzaiolo training and technique; and pizza ingredient supply chain.
Forno Bravo offers a complete range of Pizza Napoletana implementation services, including design, equipment, technique and ingredients. We can help you find the right dough mixer at the right price, layout out your pizza oven and prep areas, and show you where to purchase you Caputo flour. We can even be with you before and during your pizzeria opening.
What are the "true" Napoletana pizzas?
Pizza Margherita: tomato, mozzarella, olive oil and basil
Pizza Margherita Extra: tomato, mozzarella di Bufala, olive oil and basil
Pizza Marinara: tomato, garlic, oregano and olive oil.
Does being a Pizza Napoletana pizzeria limit my restaurant?
We do not think it does. If you approach Pizza Napoletana as a series of guiding principles for technique and quality, there is very little downside. Many Pizza Napoletana pizzerias offer traditional Napoletana pizzas, and Italian pizzas (mushroom, sausage, Quattro Stagione, Quattro Formaggio, etc.) and Artisan pizzas (gourmet pizza ingredients).
If you are looking to create a wood-fired New York-style pizzeria, with a thicker crust and heavier toppings, or a gas-fired California-style pizzeria, with unique flavor combinations, the Pizza Napoletana approach can be tailored to your specific needs, and the basic guidelines of technique and quality would still apply. Of course you would not want to be VPN-certified.
Which Ingredients are the most important for Pizza Napoletana?
We cannot recommend Molino Caputo Pizzeria Flour highly enough. It is used by a majority of the pizzerias in Naples, most of the VPN-certified pizzerias around the world, and many of the more famous "destination" pizzerias around the world. Caputo pizza flour is recommended by both the VPN Association (Naples) and Pizza Consulting (Naples). Is it that good? Simply put, yes. We think it makes all the difference in the world, and Forno Bravo can help you find a good supplier nearby your pizzeria in the U.S.
We also think that authentic San Marzano Tomatoes (DOP) and a high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil are important. They are more expensive than lower-quality alternatives, but we think your customers will be able to taste the difference. Further, the price difference is not that large, and overall, the cost of ingredients is not a large percentage of a pizzeria's operating costs. Again, Forno Bravo can help set up your supply chain for these ingredients.
How do I become VPN-certified in the U.S.?
U.S. VPN certification is managed by VPN Americas (Los Angeles). They have processes in place for reviewing your kitchen, ingredients, technique and processes, and of course, your pizza.
Forno Bravo can help with the certification process.
Should I go the cost and effort of being VPN-certified?
We think of this as primarily a marketing decision. You can make a world-class pizza Napoletana, and follow the VPN rules religiously, and choose to not pay to become certified. If you become VPN-certified, you have the rights to use and display the VPN logo.