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Saturday, April 13, 2024
Local pizza maker earns Naples seal

Just off Queen Street in Old Town Niagara-on-the-Lake, two locals are preserving a little slice of Italian heritage.

Husband and wife Laryssa and Maurizio Cesta, owners of Pie’za Pizzeria , have worked hard for years to have the restaurant certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) Association.

This November, their hard work paid off.

“It’s like the VQA of pizza,” explains Laryssa, during an interview at the restaurant.

Maurizio, having been born and raised in Naples, brings authentic Neapolitan pizza-making experience to his kitchen, and has a unique respect for the history of one of the world’s most popular foods.

When it comes to Neapolitan pizza, it’s all about traditional cooking methods, and traditional ingredients, he explains.

“Pizza used to not even have tomatoes.”

The couple is serious about pizza — every aspect of it, including the type of tomatoes used in the sauce, how those tomatoes are shipped and packaged, and the soil the tomatoes are grown in — having flown to meet the family who farms them.

They use only the highest grade of Italian certified San Marzano tomatoes, grown in volcanic soil, and they are shipped in ceramic-lined cans, so they stay sweet and don’t adopt a metallic taste, says Maurizio.

Then there’s the flour that goes into the dough. It has to be a 00 (a classification for very finely ground flour) and it has to be made with the right type of wheat.

Like the tomatoes, they know exactly what mill it comes from, having gone the extra mile to make sure it was up to Napoli standards.

“Wheat is like wine,” Maurizio says. “There’s different families, there’s different seasons … the key is the balance.”

Everything must be just right, or it can’t be considered authentic.

The 2,800 kg oven was flown in from Naples, custom-made to the size of the house where Pieza is located.

“One of the reasons why, until 30 years ago, they didn’t have many pizzerias Napoletanas around the world, was because of the oven. Most of the ovens were electric and gas,” he said,

Those ovens “cannot hold the temperature that well. So the pizza used to come crispy.”

“If you bake at 750 degrees, it’s called a shock style … so when they didn’t have these types of ovens, it was impossible.”

Maurizio could probably talk about pizza, dough, ovens and tomatoes for hours and hours — Laryssa too, but as she admits, she “doesn’t touch the pizza.”

Why would she? When your husband is an Italian-certified pizza chef, who is constantly learning new techniques and taking authentic pizza-making courses, it seems sort of understandable.

And while the main ingredients are as authentically Italian as one will find, Laryssa and Maurizio do step into the local market too, sourcing most of their cheese from Ontario producers.

“The oven is between 60 and 70 per cent of the pizza … 30 per cent are the ingredients … I would say the pizza maker is about one per cent,” says Maurizio.

“It’s all relative, cause you can have 99 per cent, and if you’re missing that one per cent …”

As Maurizio says, “pizza is the mother of the bread.”

“The original pizza is the margharita — the one with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil,” he said.

He recently got a letter from the VPN association that says it’s mandatory that if margharita pizza is on the menu, it has to be called by its traditional name.

The pizzeria is just like any you’d find in Naples, Maurizio says.

“We were just there and we went to one of the oldest pizzerias in Napoli — Matozzi — that has been there since 1833. The original name was ‘two rooms,’ because it started with one room and eventually they got to the second floor.”

The simplicity in the name is reflective of the simplicity of these early pizzas, Maurizio says.

“They tried to stick to very simple and basic ingredients, and then they add.”

In Canada, we “have a bit more freedom.”

While most traditional pizza restaurants typically only have five or six kinds of pizza, Maurizio feels free to explore a bit.

One special he cooked up for the paper is his mushroom, truffle pizza with a large portion of mozzarella and burrata cheeses.

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