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Like living things, pizza has evolved into its current form very gradually. It bears
the mark of many ancient cultures centered around the Mediterranean sea. If you're
looking for a simplified review of the history of pizza, try the outline below. If you want
more detail, try the longer review that follows this outline. Ancient Greeks ate a flat,
baked bread with assorted toppings called plankuntos. This flatbread may have been a
derivative of something Babylonians ate in earlier centuries. While originally thought to
be poisonous, Spaniards who had been to Mexico and Peru introduced the tomato to Italy
in the 16th century. The original mozzarella cheese was made from the milk of Indian
water buffalo in the 7th century. It was introduced to Italy in the 18th century. The
world's first true pizzeria may have been "Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba" which opened in
1830 and is still in business today at Via Port'Alba 18 in Naples. Italian and Greek
peasants ate earlier forms of pizza for several centuries before it became a hit among
aristocracy. In 1889, a Neapolitan named Rafaele Esposito prepared pizza for King
Umberto I and Queen Margherita, who apparently loved it. An Italian immigrant named
Gennaro Lombardi opened the first U.S. pizzeria in 1895 in New York City. Pizza is now
consumed all over the world, though travelers are often amazed by how different cultures
have adapted pizza to their own preferences. The History of Pizza In Detail It's kind of
silly to talk about anyone "inventing" pizza. Pizza has undergone a very slow process of
evolution over the centuries, but it is quite certainly the cultures of the Mediterranean
that deserve credit for creating it. Historical records suggest that people in ancient Egypt,
Greece and Rome all ate things that are very similar to our modern pizza crust. Ancient
Egyptians had a custom of celebrating the Pharaoh's birthday with a flat bread seasoned
with herbs, and Herodotus, a Greek historian described Babylonian recipes that are very
similar to contemporary pizza crust. The word pizza may be a derivative of the Latin
word picea, a word which the Romans used to describe the blackening of bread in an


Pizza most clearly took the form that we are now familiar with in pre-
Renaissance Naples, a large city in central Italy. Poor peasants used their limited
ingredients (wheat flour, olive oil, lard, cheese and natural herbs) to make a seasoned, flat
bread garnished with cheese. Mozzarella cheese was one benefit of an invasion from
Asian peoples, who brought the water buffalo to Italy. Today, the best mozzarella cheese
is still made from water buffalo milk. The word pizza, as it is currently spelled, also
emerged some time in the Middle Ages. It was used to describe both sweet and salty pies
that were becoming increasingly popular among Italian aristocracy.

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Europeans returning from Peru and Mexico brought with them what was
originally thought to be a very poisonous fruit: the tomato. Precisely how they decided
that the tomato was actually edible is unclear, but as Southern Europeans overcame their
suspicions, the tomato became enormously popular. Today, of course, the tomato is a
crucial component of the Mediterranean cuisine, and is still used in most pizza recipes.


Naples gradually assumed its reputation as having the finest pizza in Italy
throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 19th century, pizza became a popular fast
food. Before pizzerias became very popular, however, street vendors (typically young
boys) walked around the city with small tin stoves on their heads, calling out to attract
customers. While undoubtedly uncomfortable for these 19th-century delivery boys, this
street-vending method made pizza ever-more popular, and paved the way for the opening
of the world's first pizzeria.The world's first true pizzeria, "Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba",
opened in 1830 and is still in business today at Via Port'Alba 18 in Naples. Pizzerias in
this era usually included a large brick oven, a marble counter where the crust was
prepared, and a shelf lined with ingredients. Contemporary Neapolitan pizzerias are
prepared in the same way they were 100 years ago. The large brick ovens make the
pizzerias uncomfortably hot in every season except winter, but the unique flavor of these
brick-oven pizzas is unmatched. Pizzaioli (makers of pizza) often assemble the entire
pizza on a marble counter right before the customer's eyes. Some writers have considered
the pizza an invention of the man who is responsible for making it an international
phenomenon (but the fact that this man worked in a pizzeria makes it difficult to call him
the father of pizza!). In 1889, Rafaele Esposito of the Pizzeria di Pietro e Basta Cosi (now
called Pizzeria Brandi) baked pizza especially for the visit of King Umberto I and Queen
Margherita. To make the pizza a little more patriotic-looking, Esposito used red tomato
sauce, white mozzarella cheese and green basil leaves as toppings. Queen Margherita
loved the pizza, and what eventually became Pizza Margherita has since become an
international standard. Pizzeria Brandi, now more than 200 years old, still proudly
displays a royal thank-you note signed by Galli Camillo, "head of the table of the royal
household", dated June 1889. Neapolitan pizza is still widely regarded as the best in the
world, probably because of the fresh ingredients available to Neapolitan pizzerias: herbs,
garlic, and tomatoes grown in the rich volcanic ash of Vesuvius, and fresh mozzarella
from water buffalo milk. Today, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (the
Association of True Neapolitan Pizza) maintains strict member guidelines for ingredients,
dough, and cooking. This elite organization maintains that pizza dough must be made
only with flour, natural yeast or brewers yeast, salt and water. Dough must be kneaded by
hand or mixers which do not cause the dough to overheat, and the dough must be
punched down and shaped by hand. Also, only wood-burning, bell-shaped brick ovens
are permitted in pizzerias that belong to this organization. The pizza must be cooked on
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the surface of the oven (often made of volcanic stone), and not in any pan or container,
with oven temperatures reaching at least 400-430° C (750-800° F). These ovens often
have to heat up for hours before the first pizza is cooked.

Pizza and pizza-like creations are common throughout Italy, and a number of
regions claim the honor of having invented it in the first place. Not that the invention
could ever be proven -- the idea of slipping a flattened disk of dough graced with a
topping into a hot oven and baking it quickly is amazingly simple, and many people must
have come up with it independently. Indeed, in a recent post to It.Hobby.Cucina, the
Italian general cooking newsgroup, RoDante da Fano traces its origins from Ancient
Egypt to Imperial Rome, where there were a number of different kinds of flat baked
breads with a variety of sweet or salty toppings, and goes on to say that the descendents
of these proto-pizzas were common throughout the peninsula in the 1700s. In 1835, he
continues, Alexandre Dumas noted in his diary that "in Naples pizzas are flavored with
oil, lard, tallow, cheese, tomato, or anchovies…" Other chroniclers listed other common
toppings, also noting that pizza was a cheap food that Neapolitans ate for breakfast or
lunch, and in the 1870s a Neapolitan pizzaiolo created the Margherita, which he named
after Italy's beautiful queen, by sprinkling a few fresh basil leaves over a pizza topped
with mozzarella and tomato -- red, white and green, the national colors. The Margherita is
still the most popular pizza today, perhaps because it's simple, light and tasty. It's also, in
some ways, a better foil for the pizzaiolo's skill than some of the pizzas with more
elaborate toppings, because what little there is has to be perfect: Well-risen well-turned
dough; mozzarella di bufala, made from the water buffaloes that are raised around
Naples; good light tomato sauce; good extra virgin olive oil; and fresh basil. Ideally it
should be baked in a wood-fired oven, whose hot floor will rapidly crisp the dough. At
home, a pizza stone can take the place of the terracotta floor of the wood-fired oven, and
one can substitute the mozzarella di bufala with mozzarella fiordilatte made from cow's
milk (as do most Italian pizzerias). The important thing is that you use good quality
ingredients, and make your pizza with care.


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