As time passes, America’s collective palate changes
My parents often tell me that I was easily amused as a child. They’d sit me in a corner with a cardboard box and I’d be busy for hours. While I can’t say I’m still as entertained by garbage, I do find pleasure in objects that have outlived their primary purpose. That’s why the highlight of a recent trip to Louisville, Kentucky, happened when I was tucked away in the Pizza Today archives flipping through some old issues of the magazine. These volumes had once provided the latest information about the pizza industry, but decades later they best serve as a record of past pizza trends. So what did I find so interesting in these aging pages? It all starts with pepperoni.
I found the ad all about America’s favorite topping in a 1986 issue. The advertiser claimed that, unlike the competition’s product, their pepperoni wouldn’t cup, curl or char during the bake. It struck me for two reasons. First of all, I don’t remember ever having those problems with pepperoni; the issue must have been eradicated by the time I was old enough to notice. Secondly, three decades after the ad appeared the pendulum seems to be shifting back in favor of curled, charred pepperoni cups. New York’s – offers both types of pepperoni, standard flat pepperoni (artificial casing) on the regular slice and cup-and-char (natural casing) pepperoni on the Sicilian. The only slice people ever talk about is the latter. Tastes are clearly changing, going back to a version we once thought was inferior.
The same thing is happening with cheese. A desire for longer shelf life favored processed low-moisture mozzarella over the traditional fresh mozzarella. An ad in the same issue of Pizza Today boasts about pre-shredded mozzarella’s ability to cover more surface area of the pizza. As exciting as that may have been by the early 1980s, the shift toward low-moisture cheese is directly responsible for the unfortunate characterization of pizza as a fast food. Knowing our country’s current obsessions with health and food education, it makes sense that the tide is turning back toward pizzas with sparse chunks of fresh mozzarella. Last week at a chain pizzeria, I noticed a promotional flatbread that sported fresh mozzarella to achieve a healthier product image. When trends like this hit the national level, it’s a clear sign of things to come.
Pizza sauce is also experiencing a reverse facelift. We’re trending away from intensely herbed sauces, opting for simpler crushed tomatoes. Consumers are interested in brands and even specific cultivars like the San Marzano. What was once considered bland and unappealing in the eyes of the average pizza customer is now seen as elevated and admirable.
It should be no surprise that interest in artisanal food products is swelling. After so many years of cookie-cutter consistency, we eaters have grown tired of predictability. As the world gets more interconnected, it’s becoming difficult to stick out. We love imperfections because they make us feel unique. It could be our subconscious way of maintaining personality in an increasingly homogenous world. Or maybe it just tastes better.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.