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The original Italian pizza is finally set to become a UNESCO world heritage treasure

EPA/Cesare Abbate
Pizza is a happy place.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a pizza, you have Naples to thank.

While flatbread has a history that some date back to ancient Egypt, real pizza—pizza with tomato sauce—was invented in Naples, Italy. Legend holds that pizza margherita—garnished with tomato, mozzarella, and basil, in the red, white and green of Italy’s flag—was first created by Naples’ Pizzeria Brandi to honor Queen Margherita of Italy during a 1886 visit.

Today, of course, there are all kinds of pizza shapes, sizes and flavors around the world, but the original Neapolitan pizza is round, with a soft, thin center and thicker, crunchier sides. You should be able to fold it in four and devour it like a crepe. And that’s the delicious treat that’s now up for protection as an irreplaceable piece of global human heritage: This year, Italy is putting “the art of the Neopolitan pizza maker” on the list of candidates to become treasures of world heritage recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Universally recognizable, “pizza” happens to be the Italian language’s best-known word, worldwide (link in Italian), but that doesn’t mean it’s a shoo-in. “UNESCO has never listed a cultural tradition linked to food production,” Pierluigi Petrillo, who compiled the dossier to be discussed at UNESCO, told The Local.

In 2016, the European Union included pizza in its official list of “guaranteed traditional specialities” (pdf). The list specifies that any pizza called “Neapolitan” must be no more than 35 cm wide, with crust of up to 2 cm high, topped with canned tomatoes, mozzarella from Naples’ Campania region, oil and basil. The pizza must be be cooked in a wooden oven, and be elastic and soft (link in Italian).

Italy already boasts more UNESCO-recognized cultural treasures than any other country. The final decision on whether pizza-making makes one more will be announced in 2017, after discussion with all 193 UN member-states.

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