In Naples, you can find sublime pizza on practically every corner. Boston’s not quite there yet, but Neapolitan-style pies are currently hotter than the 900-degree ovens that cook them, having popped up on menus all across town. And some local chefs—including Joseph Cassinelli of Somerville’s Posto, Giuseppe Castellano of Cambridge’s Gran Gusto and Todd Winer of Fort Point’s Pastoral—have gone through an official certification process in hopes of rising above a competitive field.
If you talk to Winer for more than a few minutes, you can tell that the lessons of his Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana certification course have been burned into his memory. The two weeks of 10-hour days not only schooled him in pizza history and theory, but left him enamored with what makes the Neapolitan approach unique: the dough. Winer recalls “stacks and piles of dough,” made a day in advance with a special mixer and left unrefrigerated for 24 hours. When it’s finally cooked, the carbon dioxide in the dough expands rapidly over a rolling fire. The resulting crust is light and airy on the outside and dense in the middle. “It’s so light and fluffy. You can eat lots of it, and you won’t feel full,” Winer says. “[The certifiers’] biggest concern is that pizza is becoming too bastardized, and if you’re going to say it’s Neapolitan pizza, they want to make sure it’s Neapolitan.”
Castellano hardly needed any certification, since he hails from Naples, but the recently renovated Gran Gusto does have the stamp of approval from Ospitalità Italiana, a different certification from the Italian Chamber of Commerce. “It’s kind of fast food. It’s made in 90 seconds, but it’s a high-quality product,” Castellano says. “All the ingredients are from Naples. The buffalo mozzarella is from Italy. The plum tomatoes are from Navole.”
Those ingredients, which also include finely ground double-zero flour from Naples for the dough, can be challenging to obtain. “It’s almost Mafia-esque tracking them down,” Winer jokes. But the complex sourcing shows a dedication to the style, says Cassinelli, who opened Posto four years ago. Not only is he himself certified by the AVPN, but the restaurant has also been certified as a pizzeria, after submitting a video recording of the pizza-making process and passing an in-person walkthrough, among other hurdles.
“It’s a different style, but I happen to love it,” he says. “The way it cooks at a high temperature, all the natural oils come out and you can really capture the essence of the basic ingredients. It’s not a style that you need to load up as a meat lovers’ pizza.”
After four years of making Neapolitan pizza, Cassinelli has seen his customers—who initially loved it or hated it—warm up to the style. “The challenge is getting people to understand it,” he says. “Part of it is spreading awareness, and it’s great that chefs are trying to incorporate it into their restaurants. I think you’re going to continue to see a trend toward this.”