Not every region has its own true style
I’m delighted that the Internet is so into pizza right now, but I have to pump the brakes a bit and point out that the number of click-lists and rundowns about regional pizza styles is getting ridiculous. It feels like every week there’s another 101 Pizza Styles You Need To Know list or article about The City You’ve Never Heard of Has Their Own Mysterious Pizza Style. We all know about New York style, Chicago deep dish, New Haven style, Neapolitan and Detroit style, but not every city has a pizza to call its own – and that’s OK! Now is as good a time as any to unleash my Regional Pizza Style Manifesto.
In order to be considered a distinct regional style, a pizza must possess the majority of the following traits:
- Regional specificity. The pizza must be made with an ingredient, technology or other direct reflection of the local culture. Detroit-style pizza is made in a specific baking pan that was in use by the auto industry at the time the style emerged in the 1940s. St. Louis style was born of locally made Provel (cheese product) in the 1970s. California style embodies the use of the state’s incredible produce. Use of local element should form the foundation of all regional styles.
- Differentiation. The pizza must be unlike styles that have emerged in other regions. “Thin-crust pizza” is not a regional designation because the thinness of a crust isn’t unique to any particular city. Thinness of a crust may be a characteristic of a regional style, but is not specific enough to define.
- Multiplicity. The style must be executed by multiple pizzerias under diverse ownership. A single pizzeria cannot create a pizza and self-designate it as a regional style. Variation among purveyors shows crossover among businesses within a region. Old Forge, Pennsylvania, is a classic example, with over a dozen pizzerias making the same rectangular pan-baked pizza within a town whose population doesn’t even breach 10k.
- Endurance. The style must be in existence for at least 10 years. Spontaneous creation of a pizza style does not warrant regional style status. It’s one thing to be excited about a new creation, but tying it to a regional identity just so you can call yourself the inventor doesn’t jive. The pizza must first be embraced for a long enough period of time that it becomes a reflection of the community.
- External reference. A regional style is truly cemented as such when distant pizzerias specifically reference the original region. At least two dozen pizzerias outside of Connecticut claim to make New Haven-style pizza. Chicago deep-dish pizza is never made without reference to the Windy City.
The nomenclature of a pizza is of no importance in matters of taste, but we’re living in the information age and I only hope consistency will help keep discourse clear so we can continue to break the rules as fast as we can make them.
Scott Wiener is the founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City and SliceOutHunger.org.