What’s the difference between sparkling wine and Champagne? A carbonated wine can only be labeled Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region of France. All the rest is Cava, sparkling wine or just plain bubbly, and that’s by legal mandate.
As sparkling wine made its way through Europe, producers of bubbly in Champagne (where the style was created) felt it was unfair for others to label their (allegedly lower-quality) wines as ‘Champagne’ too. They wanted to protect the prestige of their region and thus, the Denomination of Origin restriction (the DOC) was born.
DOC’s come in different forms and at varying levels of restrictiveness, but their goal is the same: to ensure that the wine you drink is of high enough quality to represent the region in which it was made. DOC’s aren’t just for wines though, they also apply to pizza.
Americans can’t have pizzas delivered fresh from Naples, but an American pizzeria can be ‘Verified Neapolitan.’ In order to do so it must follow a list of rules regarding ingredients, the handling of the dough and the heating of the wood-burning oven.
According to Brad Otton, owner of verified Neapolitan pizzeria chain Settebello, there are only about 100 verified pizzerias in the US today.
“When we opened ten years ago we were probably only the tenth in the country. Compared to where we were then, there are a lot more today,” Brad says.
But 100 pizzerias make up just .14% of all pizzerias in the United States, a mere drop in the ocean.
“Look, there are about 71,000 pizzerias in the country, it’s a $40 billion industry,” says Rick Wetzel, owner of Blaze Pizza, the fastest growing restaurant chain in the US. “40% of Americans eat pizza once a week, 90% eat it once a month. Food is the number one thing on Instagram and pizza is the number one food.”
There’s something to be said about consuming food and drink that is so authentic it has been approved by a board of experts. Neapolitan style pizza is great, but pizza makers in the United States see themselves increasingly as innovators and artists, not rule followers.
“My favorite part about the pizza is that it’s my pizza and it doesn’t have a category,” says Nancy Silverton, James Beard Award winner and owner of Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles. “I haven’t come across a California style of pizza, but I also don’t think it would happen now because there are too many people with too many styles that they swear by.”
Even in Chicago, proud home of the deep-dish, things aren’t so cut and dry. Joseph Hernandez, food and dining reporter for the Chicago Tribune, agrees.
“Contrary to what the internet and Food Network shows tell you, deep-dish is not the only style of pizza available in Chicago, the standard delivery pizza is very Midwestern, with a cracker-thin crust, a paste-like tomato sauce and a minimal amount of toppings… it’s crispy, thin, and cut into squares.”
European artisans take pride in setting boundaries, while the success of American pizza is hinged upon crossing them. Our pizza simply cannot be defined or placed into a DOC, and that’s why we love it so much. No matter where you’re from or what’s on top, your pizza is your pizza and it’s the best in the world.