Eye on the American Pizzaiolo

Pizza was invented in Naples, Italy during the 1700’s and today, according to pizza aficionados, there is only one kind of “real” pizza: the napoletana (also known the margherita). The Avpn (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) says it’s true and their American counterparts concur. What’s more, die-hard Italy lovers and restauranteurs all over the United States make it so. Today’s example: Arne Holt’s Caffé Calabria in San Diego, California.

Arne Holt opened Caffe Calabria in 2001 and started off with an authentically Italian-style café’. He’s been to Italy more than twenty-five times and he loves the Amalfi Coast best. When customers enter the café, they pass underneath the Italian saying: “Laciate i vostri pensieri alla porta.” Leave your worries at the door. Then they see a mural of the Amalfi Coast. Inside, everything has been brought over from Italy: the knives, the cups, the water glasses. Arne uses typical Italian olive oil jugs to store his juices and the back bar is stocked with Italian wines.

Italian Wine at Caffe Calabria

Arne also has a wholesale coffee roasting business. Caffé Calabria roasts 10,000 pounds of beans per week, creating ten different blends and serving over 150 grocery stores and café’s.

But best of all, one year ago, Arne opened up his Neapolitan pizza restaurant. He first bought a pizza oven from Italy and then had Stefano Ferrara personally fly to San Diego. Stefano Ferraro is the famous brick oven pizza maker from Quarto, a suburb of Naples. Stefano put together the pizza oven brick by brick. Arne then hired six employees from Italy (most don’t even speak English yet) who work together to make authentic pizzas.

From Wednesdays to Sundays, pizzaiolo Massimo from Sicily makes the dough by hand. He creates about 100-150 balls using Neapolitan Caputo flour and fresh yeast. The balls then levitate for 5-6 hours.

Raw PizzaWhen customers arrive, another pizzaiolo fires up the oven, which can reach temperatures of 905 Fahrenheit or 485 Celcius. Oak wood is burned right inside.

Massimo rolls out the dough with his hands, never a rolling pin. The pizzas are made fresh and on demand. Once the thin crust is created (and the crust must always be thin), Massimo uses San Marzano tomatoes and imported Mozzarella di bufala from Caserta (another suburb of Naples). Two or three leaves of basil (never chopped or broken) garnish the top.

The toppings are placed sparsely, rather than heaped on. At the very end, Massimo adds a drizzle of olive oil. All the ingredients, including the olive oil, must be placed on the pizza in a clockwise direction.

The pizza then goes into the hot oven for a mere 60-90 seconds. It must be watched carefully and the entire process is a two person job. Massimo creates the pizza and then a second pizzaioli holds a wooden palette and Massimo places the raw pizza on it. From there, the second pizzaiolo grips the palette just right, slide the pizza into the woodfire oven, watch it at all times, and then swiftly take the pizza out of the oven at just the right moment. The slight of the hand necessary to slide the pizza on and off the wooden palate is a skill unto itself.

Caffe Calabria indeed serves other kinds of pizzas – with sausage or mushrooms, for example. But among pizzaioli in America as well as Italy, a heated debate rages. Is there only one kind of authentic pizza, the Napoletana, with all others undeserving of the name?