In a campaign to save pizza from the indignity of being topped with pineapple slices or slathered in mayonnaise, two million Italians have signed a petition calling for the Neapolitan dish to be given World Heritage recognition.
Italy hopes that Unesco, the UN’s cultural body, will grant special status to Neapolitan pizza when its intergovernmental committee on cultural heritage meets in Seoul next week.
The Italians want official recognition that pizza-making is an art form that was born in Naples.
Attaining Unesco status could help combat culinary abuses such as pizza adorned with tinned sweet corn, prawns, chopped lettuce, “Ranch dressing” and other foreign abominations which make Italians recoil in horror.
“Neapolitan pizza has been officially recognized as a ‘guaranteed traditional specialty’ by the European Union since 2010, but now the aim is to secure international recognition,” said Coldiretti, a national food producers association.
Pizza needs to be protected from what it called “food piracy and appropriation.”
Abuses included using foreign, rather than Italian ingredients, the association said, from “flour made from Ukrainian wheat, mozzarella made from Lithuanian curd, Tunisian olive oil and Chinese tomato puree.”
The campaign is spearheaded by Naples’ association of pizza makers, known as “pizzaioli”.
They want pizza placed on Unesco’s list of “intangible heritage”, which includes food, drink, traditional songs and things other than castles, palaces and natural wonders.
Italy has already won recognition for a unique type of grape vine grown on the Mediterranean island of Pantelleria, violin-making in the town of Cremona, Sicilian puppet theatre and the Mediterranean Diet – the latter in conjunction with Spain, Greece, Portugal, Morocco, Croatia and Cyprus.
Intense lobbying over the last few years had “created the right conditions to achieve a historic result for a product that is a symbol of Italian national identity,” campaigners said.
Italy maintains that pizza was invented in Naples at the beginning of the 18th century.
The Margherita version was first created in 1889 and named after Queen Margherita of Savoy.
Its ingredients reflected the national colors of the Italian flag red from tomatoes, white from mozzarella and green from basil leaves.
To make a pizza in the traditional Neapolitan way, a pizzaiolo, or pizza maker, should use only durum wheat flour, sea salt, fresh yeast and genuine mozzarella cheese from the milk of buffaloes, rather than cows. The dough should be stretched by hand, rather than flattened with a rolling pin, and then cooked in a wood-fired oven on a stone slab.
While the average Italian eats 7.6kg of pizza a year, Americans consume almost double that.
The making and selling of pizza employs an estimated 100,000 Italians and is worth 10 billion euros a year to the economy.
An online survey by an Italian cultural institute found that pizza is the most recognized Italian word in the world, after cappuccino, spaghetti and espresso.
What are your feelings on pizza? Strictly traditional or anything goes?