Sicilian Pizza vs. Pizza in Sicily

The contemporary pizza consumer is pretty well-versed in the language of Neapolitan pizza. We know what a wood-fired brick oven looks like, we appreciate San Marzano tomatoes and we’ve tasted mozzarella di bufala. We even know where to go in Naples for the most historic pizzerias on the planet. But what about other pizza styles that bare Italian pedigrees?

The main alternative to round Neapolitan-influenced pies is without a doubt the Sicilian pizza. For most, the name conjures images of a thick, doughy base smothered with a healthy layer of sauce and a mozzarella blanket. On my recent trip to Sicily, I found some interesting differences between what we call Sicilian pizza and what they call pizza in Sicily.


A typical New York Sicilian slice.

Upon arriving in Palermo, one of the first things I did was scout the local pizzerias. I was surprised not to find many and even more shocked at what I noticed next. Contrary to what I expected, the pizza of Sicily is not square. Am I still in Naples? Did I get on the wrong ferry? Nope, the pizza here is round and I’m just going to have to deal with it. Here’s a shot of the first pizza I ate in Sicily.


A pizza Margherita at Al Giardino Cucina e Vini in Palermo.

Looks a lot like a wood-fired Neapolitan pizza, right? That’s because it is. (Don’t tell anyone, but I liked this one even more than some of the stuff in Naples.) Sicilians don’t wear their pizza tradition on their sleeves the way Neapolitans do. In fact, they are adamant that real pizza is from Naples.

If we’re going to talk about thick squares of bread, let’s just forget the word pizza altogether. The ancestor of New York’s square pizza goes by a completely different name and, therefore, is not found in Sicilian pizzerias. You’ll have better luck heading to a bakery, or panificio. Bakeries are easy to spot and you’ll instinctively know that they are Sicily’s equivalent to Neapolitan pizzerias based on their frequency alone. Trust me, they are everywhere in Palermo.

 

Just head to the counter and ask for sfincione, a square, pan-proofed dough that fries on the base due to a nice amount of oil in the pan. The word itself literally means sponge, which accurately describes the light, airy feel of the base as well as the way the dough absorbs just the right amount of oil on the bottom. Trust me, “spongy” is not an adjective I usually use to describe breads I like but it really does work in this situation.


Behind the counter at my favorite sfincione spot of the trip, Panificio Graziano.

The base is exactly like that of a really good New York Sicilian pizza, but the big difference is what’s on top - or rather what isn’t on top. You will not find a trace of mozzarella covering the surface your sfincione. Instead, it’s topped with a thick sauce of diced onion, anchovy and tomato and finished with a dusting of grated hard cheese and bread crumbs.


Sfincione at the oldest purveyor in Palermo, Antica Focacceria S. Francesco

Why no mozzarella? Sicily’s milk-producing population consists mainly of sheep and goats, leaving cows in the #3 spot. There’s a good amount of cows’ milk cheese being produced in Sicily, the bulk of it has historically been destined for trade. Fresh cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta won’t be much good for an exporter because of their short shelf life. Hard cheeses have always been more profitable because they are better suited for travel. Therefore, mozzarella didn’t catch on as part of the sfincione formula, which deals more with cheap goods. Anchovy, onion and garlic are easily found locally. To this day Sicily is a major source of tomato production. A panificio’s stale bread becomes the bread crumbs mixed with a touch of grated hard cheese to finish off the dish. There you have it — sfincione.


This is a slice of the sfincione all the way on the right side of the above photo.

So how did this saucy snack become so cheesy in New York? The first step is simple and you can find it in old Italian bakeries that had access to inexpensive mozzarella thanks to New York State’s dairy cow industry in the early 20th century. With the close interaction between Sicilian and Neapolitan immigrants in New York’s many Little Italies, the word pizza started being used as a blanket term for anything bready with something baked on top of it. You can find solid bakery pizza at old Italian bread shops like Parisi Bakery on Elizabeth Street in NYC or Dom’s in Hoboken, NJ. These bakers don’t call themselves pizzaioli, the are simply bakers who add toppings to their leftover dough for a bit of extra profit. So the Sicilian pizza of New York is really a combination of the topped bread products of Naples and Sicily.


Bakery pizza at Parisi on Elizabeth St in Manhattan.

There are a few pizzerias in NYC that do something similar to traditional sfincione. L&B Spumoni Gardens has a saucy square dusted with pecorino and a secret slice of mozzarella to buffer the sauce from the dough. NY Pizza Suprema has something very similar in look with a more dynamic base. I actually found a pizza topped with bread crumbs instead of cheese at Two Boots! The bread crumbs replace cheese as a binding agent and it tastes really good. But the only pizzeria I have come across that offers a true-blue slice of Sicilian sfincione is Famous Ben’s of Soho - but they don’t call it sfincione. They don’t even call it Sicilian. Just look in the bottom shelf of the glass display case and you’ll see it clearly marked: Palermo.


Palermo slice at Ben’s on Spring Street, Manhattan

So check out the Palermo slice at Famous Ben’s if you want to taste the direct ancestor of New York’s Sicilian pizza. It’s one of my new favorites and really offers an alternative to the pillowy cheese-laden squares found at most corner pizzerias. Just be careful, you might quit your job and book a direct flight to Palermo.

Historic Pizza Sites in Naples

If you’re a pizza maniac planning your first trip to Italy, there are a few things you should know before hitting its winding streets and alleys in search of the perfect pie. Pizza begins in Naples, so don’t assume that Rome or Florence are going to deliver ancient slices. These cities are packed with deliciousness, but if remnants of pizza’s past are what you’re after, you’ll need to check out these must-see (and must-eat) pizza landmarks.

Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba
Via Port’Alba, 18
Open noon - 4; 7pm - 1am
CLOSED WEDNESDAY

No Neapolitan vacation is complete without at stop at the world’s oldest pizzeria. Port’Alba sold street foods back in the 1730’s but became a pizzeria by adding tables and chairs to its current location in 1830. The pizzeria is located along a street called Port’Alba. If you’re heading west along Via Tribunali (the main concourse of pizzatown), you’ll find it just after passing through an arched passageway. The building and pizza ovens have most certainly changed, but you can’t deny the magic of dining in the same space as the world’s earliest pizza eaters.

 

Pizzeria Brandi
Salita Sant’Anna di Palazzo, 2
Open
12 - 3pm; 6:30 - midnight
CLOSED MONDAY

The spread of pizza throughout Italy can be traced back to the name Margherita. Queen Margherita, wife of King Umberto I (of Savoy), famously enjoyed a pizza featuring crushed tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil and was so taken by it that the pizzaiolo renamed the dish in her honor. With this new-found endorsement, the word (and recipe) of pizza spread throughout the peninsula. Although it is unlikely that he created the dish, master pizzaiolo Raffaelle Esposito’s fame grew alongside that of the pizza bearing the Italian queen’s name. His pizzeria is located within Naples’s Spanish Quarter and celebrates itself as the birthplace of the Pizza Margherita in 1889 (the restaurant opened in 1780).

  

Pizzeria Da Michele
Via Cesare Sersale, 1
Open 10am - 11pm
CLOSED SUNDAY

This place was super busy long before Julia Roberts ate pizza here in the film Eat, Pray, Love. The Condurro family began making pizza in 1870, but Michele Condurro opened his own pizzeria in downtown Naples in 1906. In 1930, the pizzeria moved to its current location, continuing a tradition five generations deep. Now it’s one of the city’s most popular and beloved pizzerias. The long wait for a table is offset by the extremely fast bake time of the pizza (usually around 45 seconds). It takes even less time to choose your pizza from the brief list of options; you can only choose between pizza Margherita and pizza marinara. That means it’s easy to eat your way through the menu! Just be sure to enjoy some of the history while you’re there — keep your eyes peeled for faded family photos and pizza poetry lining the walls.

 

 

Pompeii and Herculaneum
Open 8:30am - sunset (last admission 1.5 hours before sunset)
CLOSED Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25

While you’re in the area, be sure to take day trips to Pompeii and Herculaneum, where you’ll find the most historic brick ovens in Italy. Both cities were destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in August of 79 A.D. but their respective positions give each of the two cities unique features. Pompeii, located south of the volcano, was damaged by the eruption’s intense heat release before being covered with ash and debris. Herculaneum was more of a vacation town for the wealthy and its position near the water on the west side of the volcano was literally out of the line of fire. Since it wasn’t hit with intense heat before being buried, many of the features and artwork are extremely well preserved. 

 

On the left is a photo of a bread oven in Pompeii. This one’s in the large house right by the main exit. There are several ovens in Pompeii because it was a large city and just about all of them were communal because it didn’t make sense to have an oven in every home. The oven on the right is the only one I could find in Herculaneum. It was hidden behind some scaffolding so I had to bend the rules to get a good look. Please don’t alert the authorities.

There’s plenty of pizza history to see in and around Naples so plan carefully and you’ll be able to pack your days with sweet sweet pizza goodness. Just be sure to leave room for gelato and sfogliatella!

Must-Eat Pizza In Naples

This is the fourth post in a series about my recent trip to Italy.

The American pizza scene is veering sharply toward Naples, with wood-fired brick ovens at the back of every pizzeria and San Marzano tomatoes pouring out of every kitchen. Just about every major city has welcomed the Neapolitan invasion with open stomachs, but what’s happening right now in pizza Mecca? In between visits to flour mills and buffalo farms last month, I managed to hit some of the most noteworthy spots in town.

Any pizza tourist knows that a bit of research is necessary so you don’t trek all the way  to a remote pizzeria only to find that they’re closed for the day. The list below includes the most up-to-date information possible. Keep in mind that almost all restaurants close between lunch and dinner service, even if I haven’t listed specific hours.

Here are my thoughts on six pizzerias worth the airfare:

Pizzeria Salvo
Largo Arso 10/16
Open 1 - 3, 7 - midnight
CLOSED MONDAY

Salvo proves that you can have a beautiful Neapolitan pizza without the dreaded soggy center that plagues most examples of the style. The tomato is bright and sweet with an absolutely intoxicating aroma. The dough rises at room temperature for 8 - 12 hours and there’s flour coating all the decorations on top of the oven. This pizzeria may not be centrally located, but it’s well worth the 8km drive.  Just save room for a stop at Pasticceria Sirica around the corner. 

Pizzeria Starita
Via Materdei, 27
CLOSED MONDAY

Antonio Starita runs the show at Pizzeria Starita and I couldn’t be happier about it. His protege, Roberto Caporuscio, is the man behind one of my favorite NYC Neapolitan joints, Keste, in the West Village. The pizzas are rustic and full of blemishes with an almost creamy tomato component. Starita was used as a location for Sophia Loren’s famous pizza flick “L’oro di Napoli,” or “The Gold of Naples.” The movie title aptly describes this sublime pizzeria, located just around the corner from Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (archaeological museum).

Sorbillo
Via dei Tribunali, 32
Open Noon - 2:30, 7 - 11
CLOSED SUNDAY

There was a huge line ever time I walked passed Sorbillo so I can safely say this was the “it” pizzeria during our stay in town. Gino Sorbillo comes from a long line of pizza makers and he carries the torch with great pride. His pizza Margherita boasts a chewy crust topped with fruity tomato and creamy mozzarella with a rare post-oven basil on top. Sorbillo is located along the main drag of Via Tribunali along with several other incredible pizza options.

Pellone
Via Nazionale 93
CLOSED SUNDAY

Although it was the last pizzeria we visited in Naples, Pellone was without a doubt one of the best. Every pizza was well-baked and well-dressed, especially the ginormous calzone. One of my favorite topping combos is the sausage and broccoli rabe, pictured below. It’s a terrific crossover of sweet and bitter. The beauty of this spot is that it’s located a few short blocks North of the train station, so it’s perfect for the commuter!

Di Napoli
Via Marc’antonio, 31
Open 1 - 3, 7 - midnight
CLOSED WEDNESDAY and SUNDAY DINNER

Here’s another pizzeria that’s located about 4km outside the center of Naples but well worth the journey. It’s also worth celebrating because the crust is unbelievably light and airy. One can get lost in the swirling creaminess that happens when cheese meets tomato. It’s a solid combination that once again resists the Neapolitan tendency to get too soggy in the center.

Di Matteo
Via dei Tribunali, 94
Open 9am - midnight
(no lunch break)
CLOSED SUNDAY

Just looking at this photo makes me think of the rich, creamy mozzarella paired with sweetly acidic tomatoes and bold olive oil. It’s a classic Margherita pizza with no pretension, served in a space that makes no attempt to cloud the true reason for your visit. Like most pizzerias in Naples, Di Matteo serves fried foods like arancini and crocche but the pizza deserves center stage. This is the only pizzeria on this list that I have visited on two separate trips to Naples. The pizza was great in 2009 but this revisit solidified Di Matteo in my heart forever.

The Evolution of Pizza Boxes in Naples

This is the third post in a series about my recent trip to Italy.

Just a couple weeks before my trip to Naples, I stumbled upon an incredible pizza box that completely changed my concept of the universe. Even though I collect boxes from all around the world, I’ve never been a big user of them myself because of a mountain of negatives. My crust gets soggy, the pie tastes like cardboard, and the dang thing is a pain in the tush to dispose of. I’ve always dreamed of inventing the perfect box that would correct these major issues, but my mission was rendered unnecessary the moment I found this modern marvel at Rossopomodo in Manhattan’s Eataly Italian superstore.

After posting a video about the box’s many features, I was invited to tour the manufacturer’s headquarters in Naples. I spent a day with the owner of iPack & Trade, Diego Rubino. It was one of the most amazing days of my life.

The beautiful photo-quality artwork on the box tops are super eye-catching, but the box’s technical functions are even more captivating. Diego explained that Italy has very strict laws regarding what materials are allowed to come into contact with food. Countries that produce paper products are usually light in restrictions because of a strong paper lobby. Since Italy is not a paper producing country, paper products are severely restricted. This is why some pizza boxes in Italy feature food-safe linings and advanced construction.

The big problem is that nobody wants to invest in such a fancy pizza box when low-end options are readily available. According to Diego, 95% of the pizza boxes in Italy are illegal because they have no barrier to protect food items from direct contact with recycled paper. In fact, Diego and his colleagues at iPack & Trade are so adverse to being lumped in with common box producers that they refer to their products as containers.

Boxes are for carting things from place to place, not for delivering carefully crafted food” is Rubino’s general sentiment. Why put so much time and effort into crafting a perfect pizza only to damn it to a life sentence of sogginess inside a cardboard coffin? It’s simple: paper goods are the easiest piece of the budget to cut and iPack & Trade’s containers are roughly three times the cost of standard low end boxes.

Before heading to Naples, I was able to figure out most of the iPack’s features. There’s ample ventilation; the interior coating helps retain heat; containers are 100% recyclable; and the printing is super high quality. Tons of features, but I missed a few and Diego was more than willing to show me.

As Diego demonstrated, the innermost section is an extremely thin sheet of polyester. The purpose of this sheet is three-fold; it retains heat, deflects grease (keeping the materials recyclable!) and prevents food from coming into contact with recycled paper. This contact is fine for some foods but not when humidity or solvents such as oil and other fats are present. Pizza fails both tests, so particles of recycled paper break down in its presence. That’s why take-out pizza tastes like cardboard. He also showed me that only a thin film of water-soluble glue is necessary to adhere the polyester to the recycled paper, so running it under warm water for a few seconds is all it takes to separate the two materials for recycling. This polyester layer is extremely durable, so the standard pizza wheel cannot puncture it.

The final feature utilizes several cardboard tabs created by the opening of ventilation ports around the perimeter of the container top. These tabs form a “U” shape inside which an additional pizza container can fit. When stacking several pizzas, this has the effect of holding multiple containers in place.   

 

There’s some pretty impressive stuff going on here but it’s all very simple. The heat retaining / humidity dispersing features of the container reminded me of an object I’ve seen in a few Neapolitan pizzerias around New York and Naples called a stufa (literally a stove). These little tubs were used to carry stacks of pizzas around the streets of Naples to be sold as snacks for a few cents apiece. Carrying them was usually the job of a baker’s son, who would hoist the copper case either on his head or tied over his shoulder. That’s right, it’s the world’s first pizza box.

It turns out that Diego used to be a stufa boy in Naples (although that’s not him in the photo) so this pizza box of the future is actually based on the archaic pizza box of the past. My pizza box collection wouldn’t be complete without a stufa so Diego tracked down the craftsman who makes them just a few blocks away. We made a quick stop, thanks to a call from Rossopomodoro’s CEO Franco Manna, and saw a freshly finished stufa as it was being prepared for shipping. This one wasn’t going back to New York with me, but I have a feeling I’ll be placing an order for the next round.

 

So keep your eyes peeled for amazing pizza containers from iPack & Trade. As of this moment they are only available at Rossopomodoro, with one location in New York and another in Naples, Florida. After my experience with Diego, I can honestly say I will never look at a pizza box… errr, container… the same way again.

Where the Buffalo Roam

This is the second post in a series about my recent trip to Italy.

I can’t believe I overslept. It’s hard enough to arrange private farm visits from across an ocean (Italians and Americans have a very different idea of scheduling), so when my travel buddy / fellow pizza enthusiast Jason shook me awake just fifty-four minutes before our train was scheduled to depart I felt like my carefully orchestrated plan to visit a buffalo farm was destined to crumble. With only two trains from Naples to Capua and a five hour interval in between, failure was not an option. All thanks to Jason and none to my Radio Shack travel alarm clock, we rushed to the station only to find that the train was delayed 25 minutes. Crisis averted, we made it to Capua and met our guide for the day, Luigi Stabile, whose family has been in the buffalo biz for over two hundred years.


The Asian water buffalo, not to be confused with the North American buffalo.

Luigi’s father Nunzio started A.B.C. (Coop Allevatori Bufalini Casertani) in 1978, along with Onofrio Piccirillo and Salvatore Caterino, just as the buffalo mozzarella market was beginning to expand around the globe. They immediately started exporting buffalo mozzarella to the United States, becoming the first company to do so. Most Americans are familiar with mozzarella as a cow’s milk cheese, but the word mozzarella traditionally refers to that which is made of buffalo milk. The term fior di latte is used for mozzarella made from cows’ milk.

Luigi told us that buffalo have been in Italy for nearly 700 years and their milk was being used to make fresh cheeses before cows were even on the scene. Thinking back, I did not see a single cow during my stay in Southern Italy. That’s probably because buffalo are more suited to the climate of the region. Unfortunately, buffalo produce only a quarter as much milk as a cow, which makes this cheese more expensive. 

Our adventure in buffalo land began with a tour of one of the 15 farms that provide milk for A.B.C. We saw everything from the grazing fields to the baby buffalo birthing area to the milking room to the storage and delivery area.

 
 
Top row: All the ladies want to be in Jason’s photo; baby buffalo daycare
Bottom Row: Jason absorbs information in the milking room; small storage tank for lower Winter yield, larger tank for Summer yield.

After spending some time on the farm, we headed to A.B.C. headquarters for a look at the production facility. The day’s milk had already been processed, so we were privy to a full view of the facility without getting in anybody’s way. After being pumped through a filter, all the milk gets pasteurized and heads into the central production area. The overall process is as simple as heating and curdling the milk, melting the curds, stretching until protein bonds develop, and finally shaping and cooling. You can do it on a small scale at home, but these guys and gals are producing tons of it every day. Home cheese makers usually introduce an acid (lemon juice or vinegar) to help curdle the milk quickly, but A.B.C. lets the process happen naturally with the use of a byproduct of the previous day’s production, known as serum.

 
 
Top row: Pasteurization gear; Jason learns the ropes
Bottom row: Sneaking a quick snack; A.B.C.’s sweet batch of serum

After a full overview of the process, it was time to chow down on some fresh mozzarella, ricotta, and butter - all made on site from fresh local buffalo milk. We learned about the difference in texture and moisture content between the different sizes and shapes of mozzarella; the smaller the piece of mozzarella, the lower the moisture content. All you need is a nice loaf of bread, some cured meats and a bottle of local wine and you’re good to go!

 
 
Top row: Fresh ricotta; mozzarella
Bottom row: Jason documents bocconcini; enjoying an espresso with my new pal, A.B.C.’s director Maurizio Spataro.

That was some delicious cheese indeed and I cannot overstate the degree of freshness we encountered. But most of us will be purchasing our mozzarella di bufala at groceries and markets in the US several days after it is produced in Caserta. There are some subtle differences between the product purchased in Italy and the product exported to the US. First of all, mozzarella gets shipped to the US packed in plastic bags that are filled with the brine in which it is produced. The cheese is then sold by the bag rather than being sold by weight as it is in Italy. This is why export mozzarella is shaped uniformly by forming rolls whereas cheese made for domestic sale is largely produced by hand. It’s just too difficult to be consistent while forming mozzarella by hand, so A.B.C. prevents angry phone calls from distributors by creating a uniform product.

The forming rolls pull the cheese tighter, which helps maintain interior moisture levels and fortifies the cheese in shipping. Luigi also explained that shelf life is extended to nearly 30 days because export mozzarella contains less salt than domestic batches. According to A.B.C., a higher salt component would damage shipping bag and promote spoilage. That’s probably not the best idea for a product that takes 4-10 days alone just to reach US shores.

A.B.C. is based in Caserta, one of Italy’s two mozzarella di bufala producing regions. You can read about mozzarella from the area south of Naples in my post about two companies I visited in Paestum in 2009.

Flour Power: From Pompeii to Caputo

This is the first in a series of posts about my recent trip to Italy.

On my first pilgrimage to Naples, I visited dairies, farms, orchards and a ton of historic pizzerias. When I got back home and reviewed all my photos, I realized I had missed out on the most basic element of pizza: flour. I was embarrassed. Exactly one week ago today, I returned from a Neapolitan vacation with fellow pizza enthusiast Jason Feirman and we spent Day 1 at the highest regarded flour mill in Naples.

The name Caputo is no stranger to the American pizza scene, being an essential ingredient of wood-fired Neapolitan pizzerias that seem to be opening across the country faster than you can say “mozzarella!” We started with a lesson in wheat, which completely blew my mind. Caputo purchases wheat from all around the world because each country’s crop provides different levels of protein. The samples are then blended and milled depending on the desired specifications of the product coming off the line on a particular day. It’s easy to see the difference between wheat samples in the photo to the right, which features the hands of Antimo Caputo, whose grandfather (also named Antimo) opened the mill in 1924. By using so many different wheat sources, Caputo is able to product a wide variety of products without the use of any additives or supplements.

Antimo’s cousin Mauro took over the tour and brought us into the actual milling facility. The building is separated into three levels: 1. shipping/receiving, 2. grinding and 3. shaking. All this hoopla results in an extremely fine all natural flour. Most flour companies add protein and minerals to replace those lost in the milling process but Caputo’s flour remains all natural thanks to the employment of fewer, more delicate stages. The photograph below shows two stages of the milling process. You can see that the sample to the right is much finer than the sample to the left. At the very end of the process, all bran and germ are filtered out and the result is bright white. Rather than trash the leftover scraps, Caputo sells it to farms to be used as animal feed. No waste!

The mill is organized vertically, which has been par for the course since the late 19th century. Wheat is brought into the first level and sucked through tubes to the upper floors of the facility. You can see the grated floor behind Jason and Mauro in the photo above. The wheat then bounces between the second and third floor as it gets crushed and shaken before heading back down to the packing/shipping area. It’s pretty simple, but this page I scanned from my travel journal might help you visualize the whole deal.

Quick, go home and build your own Caputo mill before they force me to take down this highly detailed diagram!

All of Caputo’s flour is considered “00” because of how finely it’s milled. Some people think this it means it is low in protein, but the two designations are not related. Caputo offers about a dozen products with varying degrees of protein and all of them are considered “00.” At Caputo, a product’s protein count is dependent on the wheat samples of which it is composed and each product has its own intended application. Neapolitan pizza is greatly dependent on “00” flours, which are necessary to produce a light, fluffy crust after spending 60-90 seconds in a wood-fired oven. Most of the pizzerias we visited in Naples use “00” flour and many used Caputo.

But the mill tour made me wonder what flour would have been like in the days prior to multinational wheat trade and vertical milling facilities. Antimo reminded me that flour was very roughly milled between stones in the early 16th century when early pizzas were being made in Southern Italy, rendering “00” virtually impossible to produce. The reality struck me when I was checking out Herculaneum a few days later. Just like Pompeii, Herculaneum was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Thanks to its position further down the volcanic slope, Herculaneum is in much better shape than Pompeii. I tracked down the town’s mill and found this incredibly well-preserved setup.

In this two-part device, the top piece (catillus) is mounted on the base (meta). Wheat is poured through the opening on top and emerges around the bottom after being pulverized. The photo on the left shows an exposed meta in the foreground and an assembled catillus and meta in the background. Yes, I am aware of how phallic this looks. But my photo isn’t nearly as descriptive as this sweet diagram I found in Flour for Man’s Bread by John Storck and Walter Dorwin Teague (illustrated by Harold Rydell). This textbook was published by  University of Minnesota Press in 1952 and it presents a detailed history of milling. I totally freaked out when I found a picture of an “hourglass mill” just like the one I saw in Herculaneum.

Even though this 2000 year old mill was obsolete by the time pizza was flooding the streets of Naples in the 18th century, the concept isn’t far off. Ancient pizza flour would have contained some germ and bran, much like today’s whole wheat options. So next time you’re chowing down on some whole wheat crust, think about how much you may have in common with the world’s first pizza enthusiasts!