Man on the Street: Beyond Neapolitan

How rare is your cheese? Has it flown across the ocean just so your customers could have the exclusive opportunity to enjoy it? Are your tomatoes culled from a unique piece of earth that has been designated right and proper? The challenges of collecting such ingredients have become marketing points, especially within the Neapolitan pizza community, but there’s a parallel trend developing in New York and other major cities that promises even more flavor potential without the need to leave one’s neighborhood.

This new trend combines the two hottest food concepts of the moment: Neapolitan pizza and the locavore movement. I’ve been calling it NEOpolitan because it uses the Neapolitan model as a jumping-off point and launches into something completely new. Simple dough made of 00 flour baked quickly in a wood-fired oven provides the perfect foundation for creative flavor combinations utilizing local ingredients. The result is entirely unique and exciting in its ability to combine two upscale trends into one powerful pie.

I first encountered this pizza style five years ago at a pizzeria in Brooklyn. It seemed like a standard Neapolitan joint, complete with a large brick oven built by a third-generation Italian mason, but the menu had a list of the entire ingredient sourcing. Everything came from farms within a 250-mile radius. The list made me feel like I was cheating because so many pizzerias are protective of their ingredients, guarding them as trade secrets. This pizzeria eliminated the mystery of its process — and I loved the fact that its owners were willing to share with their customers.

Local ingredient selection is a point of pride for pizzerias. I recently met a chef in New Jersey who beamed with excitement as he told me how he picked the greens for my salad at a farm down the road that very morning. He wanted me to know how involved he was with the process, and I truly did appreciate it. Seafood restaurants can boast about the fish they purchased at the dock the same morning, so why can’t a pizzeria follow suit?

There’s also a lot to be said about supporting local purveyors in an effort to become more entwined with one’s community. One of my favorite NEOpolitan pizzerias searches farmers markets for unique local products to work into their menu. Some experiments are short-lived, while others gain full-time spots in the line-up. Either way, I’m sure it helps bring in new customers who want to see their friend’s product on a real restaurant menu. The constant influx of new ingredients must help feed the pizzaiolo’s creativity, which has never been the goal of standard Neapolitan pizza.

We have to remember that Neapolitan pizza is named as such because it uses the local ingredients of Naples. Since pizza was a peasant dish, pizzaioli would never dream of paying to import ingredients. Tomato and mozzarella were simply available in Southern Italy, so they became popular toppings by default. In a sense, featuring local ingredients in your pizzeria is more true to the original form of pizza than importing DOP San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala to your restaurant in Alabama.

Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.