All Hail the Queen: Pizza Margherita

pizzerialocale Neighborhood Neapolitan

Purists call it the only true Neapolitan pizza. Aficionados claim it’s the perfect gastronomic representation of the Italian flag. You will find it in every pizzeria in the world, a constant among shifting fads and preferences.

It’s the venerable Pizza Margherita, and we at Pizzeria Locale give it pride of place on our menu. Because nothing really says “pizza” in quite the same way!

A queen’s delight

There’s some mystery embedded in the history of the Margherita. The story that’s told involves a royal visit to Naples in 1889, a scant three decades after various regions had unified into one country and Italy as an entity was born. King Umberto I and his wife, Queen Margherita, were on a goodwill tour of the former southern kingdom, and, tired of the heavy French cuisine that was all the rage at the time, the queen decided to sample the local specialty—pizza.

She visited legendary pizza chef Raffaele Esposito of Pizzeria di Pietro e basta cosi (“Pietro’s pizza and that’s enough!”) who created a pizza just for her. She chose well: many consider Esposito to be the father of modern pizza as we have come to know and love it. He set to work and came up with a garlic and oregano offering (pizza Marinara) and one with anchovy (pizza Napoli), neither of which met with royal delight. Esposito then brought the queen a third pizza that reflected the colors of the relatively new Italian flag, a pizza with tomatoes (red), mozzarella cheese (white), and basil (green).

The queen loved it. She even sent Esposito a letter to commend his pizzas, sharing her opinion that they “were found to be delicious.” This commendation had special significance: up until then, pizza had been considered food for poor people only, but Queen Margherita elevated it—and its popularity across all levels of society was thereafter assured. Esposito, of course, promptly named his creation “Pizza Margherita” and kept the royal commendation on the wall of his pizzeria—which is still there for all to see, though the establishment is now known as Pizzeria Brandi.

So what’s the mystery?

It’s a lovely story. Parts of it may even be true… well, maybe. The authenticity of the commendation letter has been called into question—details such as the format and placement of the royal stamp, the handwriting on the page and the paper itself point to it being a forgery, possibly created much later by the Brandi brothers to whom Esposito sold the pizzeria and who fell on hard times in the 1930s (and so needed the jolt of publicity the document provided). But it’s still a nice story.

Yet the story doesn’t wholly honor the true roots and history of this venerable pizza. Alexandre Dumas described sampling a wide array and diversity of pizza toppings in—and that was in 1843. In 1866, Francesco DeBouchard mentioned a pizza with three toppings—tomatoes, cheese, and basil—in his book Customs and Traditions of Naples.

But pizza was a staple of life in Naples long before that. Founded in the 16th century, the city was generally poor, and flatbread with toppings was sold by street vendors as a cheap and convenient meal on the go. These early iterations of pizza were usually topped with a variety of things, such as tomatoes, cheese, olives, anchovies, and garlic. It times of cholera—and Naples went through many—the dough could be “sanitized” by frying rather than baking, and so the population could continue to eat pizza… and live!

What’s in a name?

While the association between the pizza and the queen, and the story of that association,  is popular, an alternate theory revolves around the fact that the word margherita translates to “daisy” in Italian. And, argue this theory’s proponents, more often than not, the mozzarella and basil are arranged on the pizza in a daisy shape… hmmm.

No matter who first imagined the pizza, it didn’t take long for the Margherita to cross the Atlantic as Italian immigrants brought it with them to the United States. The basic toppings stayed the same: tomatoes, cheese, and Italian herbs, though it took on different variations in different regions of the country.

Whatever the real origins of this pizza recipe, all we know for sure is that Esposito’s version for Queen Margherita was the one that made it popular. Since 2009, Pizza Margherita is one of the three Pizze Napoletane with an STG (Specialità Tradizionali Garantite or Traditional Guaranteed Specialty) EU label together with the Marinara (garlic and oregano) and the Margherita Extra (mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP, fresh basil, and tomatoes).

The top quality of the ingredients and the traditional preparation and cooking method are at the basis of a true Pizza Margherita, and that’s exactly what we bring you at Pizzeria Locale: the thoughtfully sourced ingredients prepared the Neighborhood Neapolitan way. Why not try a Pizza Margherita next time you order?