Man on the Street: The Name Game

Chicago-style Deep Dish pizza

Imagine a world in which doctors disagree on terminology for common procedures. Or what if plumbers used the same name for different sized pipes and connectors? Houses would flood, limbs would be accidentally amputated — there would be absolute mayhem. The pizza world isn’t in imminent danger, but I’ve noticed an increase in misused terminology on menu boards lately. Misunderstood nomenclature is the first step toward customer confusion and I’d like to help fight it by pointing out the top four offenders.

Margherita: I’ve seen lots of Margherita pizzas lately. Some have red onions, others have garlic and one even used parsley. These variations might be delicious, but they ignore the original use of the term, which emerged in the late 19th century. Long before the pizza with mozzarella and tomato was named for the queen in 1889, nobody ate this dish but the poor. Mozzarella was very expensive and garlic extremely cheap, so the two were never combined or the strong garlic would have trampled the delicate creaminess of mozzarella. The original pizza Margherita, still served all over Naples today, consists of crushed tomatoes, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella. You can achieve plenty of variation within those borders, but anything additional deserves a different name.

Deep Dish: I may not be from Chicago, but I get riled up whenever I see a pizza falsely described as deep dish. Although it falls under the category of ‘pan pizza,’ a deep-dish designation requires more than a mere baking vessel. It starts with a dense, crumbly base and continues with a layer of low-moisture mozzarella. Toppings come next and the pie gets finished with a crowning layer of rich tomato sauce. I see lots of thick, bready pizzas labeled as deep dish, but the truth is that this style’s crust is more biscuit than bread. Just because your pizza is thick, it doesn’t necessarily make it a deep dish.

Grandma: This one’s new to the pizzeria scene, but it seems to be spreading from its origins on Long Island. Before the days of pizza stones for every pair of newlyweds, homemade pizza consisted of rectangular pies baked in cookie sheets. The dough is stretched into the pan and immediately topped and baked, unlike a Sicilian pizza, which is typically proofed, baked, topped and re-baked. The name comes from the fact that Italian grandmothers often baked this pie, topping it with light portions of cheese, sauce and garlic. The common error with this one is that it’s often used as a synonym for pizza Margherita. Stop the madness and give Grandma some respect!

Fresh Mozzarella: There’s a big difference between mozzarella that just came in from the distributor and cheese that was pulled recently from curd. One is not necessarily better than the other, but they are certainly two different products on a physical level. The FDA defines mozzarella as having 45 percent milkfat content and at least 52 percent moisture content. Low-moisture mozzarella has similar milkfat content, but ranges from 45 – 51 percent moisture content. Because of its higher moisture content, fresh mozzarella tends to respond better to high heat ovens whereas low moisture works better on a deck. I’ve seen the term “fresh mozzarella” used on menus and signage when the cheese was clearly not what the FDA defines as such.

I don’t expect you to immediately change the wording on your menu, but as food media continues to expose your customers to deeper culinary vocabulary, you might want to act now to prevent customer confusion.

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

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