Pizza in Italy, Why it’s the Best in the World
Curious why Italian pizza is believed to be the best in the world? Wondering if eating pizza in Italy is really all it’s cracked up to be? Our guide to Italian pizza includes a collective comparison of all the cool, quirky experiences we’ve had eating pizza in Italy and in America.
Pizza in Italy
We kick things off with 5 reasons Italian Pizza is the best in the world including the origin of Pizza in Italy. Then we go head to head with an overview of Pizza in Italy vs Pizza in America and why Neapolitan Pizza is so good.
Next, we share a list of some of the different types of Italian Pizza found around Italy. Finally, we sum things up with a short and sweet list of 11 Differences Between Italian Pizza and American Pizza.
Our opinions are a little like pizza dough, meant to be tossed around a little. Comments (about Pizza) are welcome in the comment section at the end of the article. Keep ’em clean and polite or you will be excused from the table.
We are Paolo and Brandy. Together we have been traveling across Italy for over a decade. After becoming dual Italian American citizens, we moved to Italy to live out our early retirement dreams. Now we travel to Italy’s most popular destinations and explore hidden gems full-time from our home base in the Italian Alps.
5 Reasons Why Pizza in Italy is the Best in the World
Why is Italian pizza the best in the world? Five reasons. The first is history because Italy is the birthplace of pizza. Secondly, Italians are sticklers for fresh, quality ingredients. Thirdly Italian pizza is ready fast! Fourth, Italian pizza is made by trained Piazziolo, and these guys are series. Finally, Italian pizza is certified and regulated.
1. Pizza Originated in Italy
Pizza is one of the most beloved symbols of Italy. It has a history that stretches back a thousand years. Even though yeast and bread can be attributed to Egypt, the Romans were the first to use bread in the shape of a disc to hold saucy dishes.
Around 1000 AD, the first documented words resembling Pizza began to surface in Italy. By 1535 Benedetto di Falco finally wrote the phrase “focaccia in Neapolitan is called pizza” in his Description of Ancient Places of Naples. Hence making Napoli the official birthplace of Pizza.
If you have the time and want an in-depth look at the history of Pizza, the video below is among the best we’ve seen in English.
2. Pizza in Italy is Made from Fresh Ingredients
Some of the best tomatoes in the world come from Italy. Likewise, some of the best mozzarella cheese in the world also comes from Italy. In short, Italy has access to the best pizza ingredients in the world in its freshest state.
Italian pizza might be made with Fior di latte (cow’s milk) or Mozzarella di Bufala (buffalo milk) cheese, but either way, it’s fresh, full-fat, and full of moisture.
Both are light with a creamy flavor that pre-shredded cheese can only dream of.
3. Pizza in Italy is Cooked Fast
Pizza ovens in Italy are wood burning and reach temperatures of 800 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter! The scorching temperatures enable Italian pizza to be cooked in under two minutes. Consequently, the type of cheese used in Italian pizza is critical. It must melt without burning under the scorching temperatures reached by Italian pizza ovens.
4. Pizzaiolo, the Secret Ingredient in Italian Pizzas
A Pizzaiolo is a chef who is trained, certified, and specializes in making Neapolitan pizza.
Consequently, a Pizzaiolo is a respected professional with deep technical knowledge of Italian pizza. There is even a registry for Pizzaiolo. What do pizza makers have to do to prove they are worthy of the title Pizzaiolo?
A Pizzaiolo in Italy must start from the bottom and work his way up.
Typically Pizzaiolo train for one to two years as an oven operator first. Next, come the recommendation letters, and exams. Then they can apply for registration.
There are even advanced levels of Pizzaiolo including Instructor and Master Pizza Maker (Maestri Pizzaioli).
5. Italian Pizza is Certified
Neapolitan pizza (Pizza from Napoli, Italy) is arguably the most famous Italian pizza. Because it is so freakin’ good Neapolitan pizza is Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TSG) certification. That’s right. It’s a certifiably good pizza!
In fact, Neapolitan pizza was added to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage in 2017! In other words, Neapolitan Pizza is an art form in Italy.
The rules around what makes a pizza an authentic Neapolitan Pizza are so strict in Italy that they have been codified, certified, and protected by L’Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN). The AVPN was formed in 1984 to “defend against the impure and improper use of the phrase ‘true Neapolitan pizza.'”
36 years later, they still defend the ancient Neapolitan pizza tradition with regulatory and disciplinary action. Think of them as the pizza police.
For a pizzeria in Italy to say it serves Neapolitan pizza, it must follow this official Pizza Neapolitan recipe. If not, no matter how good it is, it’s not Neapolitan pizza.
In summary, these five points make Neapolitan pizza not only the best Italian pizza but the best pizza in the world.
Pizza in Italy vs Pizza in America
Yes, on the whole, Italian pizza is better than American pizza. If we’re talking dough, sauce, and cheese, how different can pizza in Italy and pizza in America be? Let’s get into it, shall we!
From a purely objective standpoint, pizza is a bit like wine. There’s Old World (Italian pizza) and New World (American pizza).
Defining American pizza is tricky because it’s almost always personal. Customers pick and choose from a list of ingredients to customize their pizza. Do you want ham and pineapple? Have at it. Goat cheese and mushrooms, why not! Pepperoni, sausage, and pickled onions, YES! In America, pizza is creative, personal, and expressive.
As a dual-American-Italian citizen, I’m quick to defend pizza in America. Yet endless topping combinations are not what makes the best pizza in the world. Instead, it’s fresh, high-quality ingredients, technique, and a history of excellence that Italy turns out for a fraction of the price.
If you haven’t eaten good pizza in Italy, a little convincing might be required. Check out this video about Neapolitan Pizza.
Why is Neapolitan Pizza So Good?
The tomato, cheese, and dough of Neapolitan Pizza are a sacred trinity. The tomatoes should either be San Marzano or Pomodorino Del Piennolo del Vesuvio. Thicker flesh and fewer seeds make them sought after worldwide. Which means a sweeter flavor and a less acidic bite.
Then there’s the cheese. Neapolitan pizza must be made with fresh mozzarella. Specifically, the cheese must be certified Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. That’s right, certified pizza needs certified cheese.
Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is a PDO or a Protected designation of origin product. To that end, it’s produced in a traditional method and entirely made in Campania, or it’s not Mozzarella di Bufala Campana.
Last but most certainly not least is the dough. The dough of a Neapolitan pizza is critical. The best Neapolitan pizza is made with lean dough (00 Flour, water, salt, and yeast). The dough is fermented long enough for the starches in the flour to break down, making them easier to digest. The result is a flavourful, pillowy-soft, pleasantly chewy crust covered with the thinnest layer of crispness.
While Neapolitan pizza is the most famous Italian pizza, it’s not the only one!
Different Types of Italian Pizza
Italian cuisine is regional and Italian pizza is no exception. We’re not just talking toppings here. Pizza in Italy can be fried, served by slice, round, square, or even rectangle in shape. Here are a few of the most common variations you’ll find in Italy.
Neapolitan Pizza (Pizza Napoletana)
The original, the OG Pizza Margherita, is the Queen of Italian Pizza Napoletana. The toppings are just San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Sicilian Pizza (Sfincione)
Unlike Neapolitan pizza, Sicilian pizza is sold in rectangular slices in bakeries rather than pizzerias across Sicily. Here are seven facts about Sicilian Pizza we learned while eating pizza in Sicily!
Think of a Neapolitan pizza folded in half with a crispier crust, and you’ve got a Calzone. Why would Italians mess with their beloved Neapolitan pizza? Calzone is a pizza, but it also means pant leg. This Italian pizza was named after its purpose. Being a portable pizza that can be eaten while walking or standing.
Fried Pizza (Pizza Fritta)
Pizza Fritta is the lesser-known cousin of Neapolitan pizza. It emerged as a result of poverty during World War II. Hundreds of air raids left a lack of ingredients and functioning ovens. Citizens only had their creativity. As a result, Pizza Fritta was born. The dough was fried instead of baked and topped with whatever was available and seasonal.
Pan Pizza (Pizza al Padellino)
Italian deep-dish pizza is a thing in Torino, Italy! Pizza al Padellino is thick-crust pizza baked in a round pan. Apparently, it was Vittorio Emanuele II’s (The first King of Italy) favorite.
Pizza by the Cut (Pizza al Taglio)
Tagliare means “to cut” in Italian. Hence pizza by the cut. Unlike the large round American pizza sold by the slice, Pizza al Taglio is cut from rectangular pizzas sold by weight in Italy. Customers can order as little or as much as they like depending on how hungry they are or how much they want to spend.
Round Roman Pizza (Pizza Tonda Romana)
Pizza Tonda Romana is a round, thin crispy Italian pizza from Rome. Unlike Pizza Napoletana, the crust is made with a rolling pin. The result? A thin crunchy crust that goes by the nickname “scrocchiarella.”
Another pizza type popular in Rome now is Pinsa. Pinsa is a modern take on the ancient roman flatbread only the dough is softer and cloud-like with a crispy outer edge. Many in Rome claim this is their original pizza style.
Paddle Pizza (Pizza alla Pala)
If you have an Eataly in your neck of the woods, this is the pizza you’ll see sold by the slice on, you guessed it, wooden paddles. Paddle pizza is a Roman street food sold in bakeries. Hence a denser yet fluffy dough. Unlike Neapolitan Pizza, Paddle pizza is a bit more creative, and toppings vary by season.
Eating pizza in Italy is very different than eating pizza in America. Here are the top eleven differences when it comes to Neapolitan-style pizza.
11 Differences, Italian Pizza and American Pizza
- One person, one pizza. That’s it. No small, medium, or large.
- He who makes pizza is a Pizzaiolo. A good Pizzaiolo is a valued, respected, craftsman.
- In Italy, pizza does not come pre-sliced. It needs to be tackled with a fork and knife.
- As a result, pizza in northern Italy is seldom eaten by hand.
- In Italy, Pizzerias live or die by the quality of their pizza Margherita. Just dough, tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil, and basil. Judge a Pizzeria by its Margherita, as there are no toppings to hide behind.
- Italian pizzas have names. Like Margherita or Diavola which is the closest thing to pepperoni pizza in Italy.
- Don’t expect to pick and choose ingredients in Italy. Order pizza by its name and respect the craft!
- Italians love wine, but with pizza, they drink beer. Order “Una birra media” in Italy with pizza.
- Using a fork and knife to eat pizza in Italy is necessary because the most famous type of Neapolitan pizza has soft dough that is slick with sauce and cheese. Everything sort of melts together into a heavenly pillow of deliciousness. Eating pizza by hand in Italy is messy.
- Even though pizza is revered it’s still the fast food of Italy because it’s quick and relatively cheap. How cheap? Try 6€ – 8€ for a Margherita!
- Most Italians don’t make pizza at home. It’s too cheap, and delicious in restaurants. Plus Italian home kitchens are typically not very big and have small ovens that are not ideal for pizza.
Pizza Photo Gallery
Yes, On the Whole Pizza is Better in Italy than America
We are not saying you cannot find good pizza in America. Our friend Chef Daisuke Matsumoto owns La Sorrentina in Vancouver, Washington. Chef Daisuke placed #6 in the world at the Las Vegas International Pizza Expo Pizzaiolo competition.
Daisuke is a Pizzaiolo in the truest sense because he knows what makes pizza art is having respect for quality ingredients. The thing is, Daisuke trained in Italy. So that brings us back to my personal truth. Italian pizza is better than American pizza in general.
To sum it up, while endless topping combinations and crust style are subjective, consistency is objective. Pizza in Italy is better than pizza in America because it is consistently good.
Italians take their pizza seriously. Maybe a little too seriously sometimes. One could definitely argue the pizza police are stifling creativity in young Pizzaioli, but still.
The tradition of quality food at an affordable price reigns supreme when it comes to Italian pizza. Furthermore, pizza making is an art in Italy. Finally, pizza for 8€ means no guilt associated with treating yourself once a week.
Are you planning your first trip to Italy? Here are a few of our most popular resource articles with tips on navigating some of Italy’s unique cultural quirks.
Tipping in Italy | How to Use a Bidet | Coperto in Italy | Driving in Italy | Are Italians Rude? | Is the Water Safe to Drink in Italy?
Basic Neapolitan Pizza Dough Recipe
Just spent 6 weeks in Italy north to south. The ONLY region the pizza was consistently great was Campania. Otherwise, US pizza far tastier.
Hope you had an amazing time in Italy! Have any recommendations for pizza in Campania that’s a must try? Also in the US what’s your favorite? Thanks for commenting Rock!
LOL, if I can’t customize, I’m not Paying. Best pizza for me is deep dish in Chicago, and yes with pineapples on it. Give me an American place where I can specify any Day over some stuck up European snobs.
LOL indeed. America is definitely more of a “have it your way” society honoring individuality first. Italy honors tradition more. At the end of the day all that matter is you lika your pizza pie!
Only had pizza in Italy a few times. It was pretty good.
Oddly best pizza I’ve had in Europe was in France. They put their own spin on it, but it was very tasty.
Best pizza in the world is in New Haven, Connecticut. Modern, Sally’s or Pepe’s.
Buenos Aires is a whole different animal. Enjoy it, certainly, but not like pizza I’ve had anywhere else. The portenos make some amazing Italian dishes though.
Hi Andrew! It’s great to hear from someone who has traveled and experienced pizza in so many places. My American hear loved that your favorite is in the US. Is New Haven home for you or a favorite destination?
Everyone has the right to their opinion. But this idea that Italian pizza has more focus on fresh ingredients is nonsense, unless you only eat American pizza at the big chain pizza places. The are countless smaller pizza places in the U S that can truly be said to put every bit, if not more care into the quality of their ingredients. And where good American pizza beats Italian is in the fact that Italian pizza is often sparse in cheese, more bland and sparse in tomato sauce and less creative. So just like some people only like vanilla ice cream, there are some who would prefer the more plain Italian style pizza. But for those of us who love variety, creativity, and depth of flavor good American pizza is the winner.
Hi Kevin, thanks for taking time to stop by. I will agree that there are good pizza spots in America that have quality ingredients. I would also however argue these are the exception and not the rule. I grew up eating American pizza and it does have it’s place among the creativity of the world. Have you had a chance to have much pizza in Italy? What’s your favorite spot in the US?
It’s not nonsense, it’s simply the truth. The worst fresh mozzarella in Italy beats 99% of mozzarella in the US. I have been to Frank Pepe more than once: super acidic tomato sauce and cheap salty mozzarella. I would argue that most American pizza is what Italian pizza was like 25 years ago. Made with poor-quality ingredients.
I suspect you have a very limited knowledge of what constitutes modern Italian pizza (pizza contemporanea). It is anything but simple or bland. Many types of sauces are used (porcini mushroom cream, butternut squash puree, quattro formaggi etc) and endless choice of toppings.
Hi Dan! Tell me more about your favorite pizza contemporanea? There’s a spot in Torino, Italy with some pretty amazing “pizza” that I’m obsessed with. Torino seems to be more comfortable innovating with tradition cuisine in Italy vs many other cities in Italy when it comes to pizza.
Pepe in Grani is definitely a place you should check out:
By the way my reply was directed to Kevin, who, like many tri-state residents, truly believes the best pizza in the world is there 😄
I have lived in both countries and, while there are excellent pizzerias in the US, the ingredients they use (mainly the sauce and mozzarella) are objectively not of comparable quality.
Oh man!!!! I checked out that Facebook video and you are totally right. I MUST go here! Thank you for sharing your pizza thoughts and inspirations with me.
I can’t wait to be eating pizza in Italy in a year from now!!!
Tell me more! Are you coming for school/work/life or a trip?
My honeymoon! We were supposed to go this June, but everything has been postponed to end of May 2021. We are doing Rome, Ischia, and Positano. I’ve been dreaming of going for years!!
I’ve never eaten pizza in US though I’ve eaten it in tons of other countries but I agree, there’s no place like Italy.
For pizza most definitely… now France, oh dreamy France! What’s your favorite delicious comfort food in France Sheree?
As someone who grew up in an Italian-American community in New York City, I do not consider Dominoes to be pizza. I’d put it more in the Doritos category…if someone puts it in front of you, you’ll eat it, but it won’t be a memorable culinary occasion.
Theresa you just gave me the biggest laugh! Thank you! Where did you grow up in NYC? It will forever feel like home to me. Though I only got to live there a quarter of my life NYC has my heart.
Lol, Staten Island. Also worked near City Hall and then Midtown for about 20 years. Lazarra’s in midtown has the best pizza. 🤪🍕
Love it! I once worked at HBO and while babbling on endlessly (like an idiot) to David Simon over lunch. Long story short I bragged about Lazarra’s in midtown. How it was old school New York one of a few authentic places in midtown. Up the steps, swinging wooden door. Flash forward to his new show and I’m pretty sure James Franco is sitting on the steps to Lazarra during a few episodes. Small world no!
PS: I greatly admire your focus and consistency on your blog. Awesome work.
Oh cool! I haven’t been there in years, but used to bring all out of town guests there. Hope it’s still there. Thanks so much for the compliment…I appreciate that😊
Very welcome, very deserved.