I’ve been checking out Dutch pizzerias for the past week and while I can’t say there’s anything magical happening on the plate, those opting for take-away are definitely in for something special. I’m pretty into pizza boxes these days so my eyes are always peeled for new specimens for my collection, which takes up its own shelf in my apartment. I have a huge pile of new submissions from amazing people all over the planet and I can’t wait to get back and catalogue them, but last night I stumbled across some of my favorite boxes yet.
I scored this first box at MangiAncora, a pizzeria located in the De Pijp section of Amsterdam. I’ll write a full report sometime next week, but suffice it to say this is the best pizza I’ve had in NL thus far. But back to the more important container. I’m in awe of these boxes that are printed in full color all the way out to the edge. How can they do this? Isn’t it expensive? This is way beyond what we have back in the US. And who is this artist? His name (Ciancio) is in the lower right-hand corner. Please, if anybody knows Ciancio please tell him/her I’m a big fan.
This next one is equally amazing, with its to-the-edge printing and full color. But get a load of this scene; it shows famous Neapolitan comic actor Toto sharing pizza with a guy who looks like a cross between Adrian Grenier and Jake Gyllanhaal. Who is that guy and why does he have such a weird pinky finger? All we know is that they’re on a boat in the Bay of Naples and only one of them seems to be having a good time. A quick online search produced the original image upon which Toto’s apprehensive expression is based. I grabbed this box at de Portare Via, also located in Amsterdam. The pizza makers saw a stack of boxes already under my arm so I mentioned my collection, providing the perfect segway to ask about all the different boxes I saw piled around the room. They pointed to a stack od “old boxes we don’t use for pizza, just for show” and revealed the stunning top image. I squealed. This isn’t the only box top image that features Toto, I think I have another one in my collection. They seemed pretty happy to get rid of it and I was more than happy to take it.
But nothing could compare to the next box they pulled from a dusty stack. I’ve seen images of similar boxes but never came across one in the wild, so this was a pretty big moment for me. I made a sound never before uttered in the Netherlands. It was a sound of such pure joy and elation, it could only mean one thing…
Pagliacci’s box top describes the life cycle of a pizza box.
Don’t you just love pizza boxes? They are the unsung hero of busy/lazy food eaters everywhere and we need to take a moment out of our busy schedules to pay respect. At their most basic, pizza boxes transport food from oven to hungry person, but some boxes go the extra mile. There’s a whole world of engineering and design that happen behind the scenes and this box from Pagliacci Pizza in Seattle, WA is a testament to that process.
The box itself is a pretty standard corrugated unbleached Michigan-style unit. That means it’s your basic cardboard box. Bleached paper is white and looks nice with printing, but this box keeps it simple with its natural finish. Michigan-style (aka Walker Lock) just means the front flap folks over itself to hold in the side flaps, which creates a sturdy structural element that can stand up to the weight of multiple pizzas in a stack. [I’m pretty sure it’s called Michigan Style because it was first used for a Michigan-based pizza company called Domino’s.]
I received this amazing email last night and it’s my duty as an American to make it public. Sorry about the censorship, but I have to protect my source.
Notice the misplaced keystrokes and incorrect punctuation. This person was obviously in a hurry to share the truth. Who could possibly be on a Godfathers pizza box circa 2002??? If anybody has a 2002 Godfathers pizza box, please share it with the world. We may not yet be ready for the “explosive” political nature of this pizza box, but it is our right to know.
The truth is out there.
Most pizza fans probably agree that pizza is best served directly from the oven, but over 1 billion pizzas are delivered each year and every single one of them is transported to its destination in a cardboard box. The contemporary pizza box remains as anonymous as it is simple, since few of its users know anything about the cardboard coffin’s humble origins. Let’s dig a little deeper into the history of the pizza box to provide some context for an item most of us view as a necessary evil in the life of a pizza eater.
In the early 1800’s, bakers were using copper containers to transport small breads and pizzas on the street. They often employed their sons to cart these stufas (literally stoves) around the neighborhood in hope of selling the scraps for some extra change. It was kind of like Newsies, but with much less singing and dancing. Unlike today’s model of made-to-order pizza delivered hot and fresh to your door, stufa boys were hawking pre-made pies. Stufas kept the pizzas warm, as copper has high heat dissipation capabilities. They also had pointed lids with covered vents to help manage steam exhaust. Brilliant!
The world’s first pizza box? This Stufa was crafted in a Neapolitan workshop.
Jump ahead 100 years and pizza starts to catch on in New York and other industrialized American cities. Legend has it that pizzas were being sold “to-go” rolled into a cone, wrapped in paper, and loosely tied with twine at Lombardi’s (America’s first licensed pizzeria). The small breads were often sold at room temperature and reheated on factory furnaces later in the day. This is early American take-out dining! There’s no evidence of stufa usage in America, but pizza was readily available at the bakery counters of any Italian immigrant neighborhood.
The post-WWII years exposed millions of American GI’s to pizza in Italy, so interest dramatically increased upon their return home. In the 1940’s, lots of pizza purveyors offered take-out pies. The pizza would sit on a stiff corrugated base, which could slide snugly into a large paper bag. The bag’s thin structure would allow steam to escape but only at the price of heat loss. Still, it’s not a bad means of conveyance. You can still find this method in use at Federici’s in Freehold, NJ (which has been bagging pies since 1946) and Vincent’s in Pittsburgh (since 1950).
Lillian of Passion-4-Pizza posing with a paper-wrapped pizza at Vincent’s in Pittsburgh.
The 1950’s brought pizza into the dining rooms of a booming nation and as orders piled up, so did the pizzas. Bags don’t stack very well and we didn’t even have that funky-little-white-plastic-dollhouse-table-pizza-box-support yet (more on that in a future post) so mankind was forced to adapt. Thin paperboard bakery boxes provided a bit more support, and so were born the earliest dedicated pizza boxes. Paperboard did the job for quite some time and remains in use today, but some folks aren’t satisfied. This material was never meant to withstand the intense moisture introduced by a hot pizza. The result is often a weakened box that collapses under its own weight.
A stack of empty paperboard boxes buckling under their own weight. [Photograph: Chuck Tuze]
One of the greatest leaps in the evolution of the pizza box can be attributed to Tom Monaghan, founder of Dominos. Since Dominos focused its business solely on delivery, it should be no surprise that they were the driving force behind pizza delivery technology. In order to deliver hot pizzas in a timely fashion, Monaghan searched for a company to develop a corrugated cardboard box in the mid 1960’s. According to Monaghan’s autobiography Pizza Tiger it was more difficult than anticipated to make a container that was scored properly for folding yet strong enough to hold its form. After a long development process with Triad Containers, a Detroit-based corrugated box company, they finally achieved success. The resulting pizza box has become a standard for the pizza industry right down to the way the box base doubles over itself to lock into the base, known appropriately as “Michigan style”. Regardless of how you many feel about the quality of their edible products, it’s hard to ignore the impact Dominos has made on the history of the pizza box.
Even with all these years of innovation, we’re still just using a simple cardboard box to transport our beloved pizza. Have we taken the medium as far as it can go or is there room for improvement? Judging by the incredible array of new models at this year’s International Pizza Expo, we may be looking at a new era in pizza box evolution. Some pieces tackle the problem of heat loss while others challenge steam release issues. Wherever the world of pizza box design may be heading, it’ll be a long way from the copper stufas of Naples. Stay tuned for future posts on the technological updates in the pizza box industry.