Welcome to a three-part series on pizza. This month and next will lead to a follow up in April or May, after the Pizza Expo, which hopefully will be held in Las Vegas.

I don’t know if I agree with this list but TripAdvisor created the top ranked pizza cities in the country.

Number 10 Miami, FL

Number 9 Phoenix, AZ

Number 8 San Diego, CA

Number 7 Las Vegas, NV

Number 6 Washington, D.C. 

Number 5 San Francisco, CA

Number 4 Orlando, FL

Number 3 New Haven, CT

Number 2 New York City, NY

Number 1 Chicago, IL

I think a lot of people would feel that the exclusion of Detroit-style pizza is a big mistake.

The Las Vegas pizza scene has grown exponentially in the recent past. There always was a pizza shop in every neighborhood but the attention to detail that’s coming out now is much more making us a stop on the pizza tour. Everything started changing in Las Vegas thanks to Metro Pizza. Cousins Sam Facchini and John Arena came to Vegas from New York in 1980. One thing that brought out the pizza in our city was when the Pizza Expo, in its 37th year and currently held in Las Vegas, became the world’s largest pizza show with over 13,000 people attending.

Of course, everyone knows that pizza originated in Italy, but the pizza in the United States is much different than the types of pizza you would find in Naples or Rome. Tomatoes came to Italy in the late 1500s and it didn’t take long for the pizza to be created. When Europe had huge amounts of emigrants and the United States had huge immigration, southern Italians were one of the major groups to come. This region is in the Mediterranean, which is conducive to the tomato plant being grown, while in the north tomatoes weren’t grown, but dairy was plentiful. Tomato pie, as it’s called in New Jersey, originated in the southern part of Italy, especially Sicily. The white pizzas that we know usually originated in the north.

As time went on and travel between the north and the south became more efficient the cheese and tomato got together. When the immigrants came into the United States they mostly settled in the large eastern cities and that created a desire for the pizza there, but it was after World War II when American soldiers returned and brought a lot of different food they ate in Europe to hometowns all across America.

Different dough recipes, different amounts of heat and different oven styles make each pizza unique. The most prominent pizza that we know has three main ingredients: flour-based dough, tomato-based sauce and cheese. When learning about the dough, I was amazed at how many varieties of flour there are and the different recipes and cooking styles that are affected by the flour. Since a typical Neapolitan pizza is around 60% dough and since the pizza dough is 60% flour, the variety of flour will certainly change the outcome.

White flour has the germ removed and this extends shelf life, but it creates less flavor then whole wheat flour. The whole wheat flour has different flavors due to all the nutrients and the oil that is in the germ. Another variable in the taste of the flour is how fresh it is. This effects the smell and the newer it is the more flavor it will have. Another variable is the milling technique. Modern methods of milling the grains heat the grain which changes the flavor as compared to stone-ground or home-milled flour. 

Another variable is the amount of gluten in the wheat. Gluten is a protein that holds the dough together. Bread flour has the most gluten, so if you think of the texture of bread compared to a cake flour, which has the least amount of gluten, all-purpose flour is in the middle. Each of these flours will work, but are ideally used with different amounts of water in the dough and different temperatures of cooking as well as methods of cooking. Woodfired pizza ovens can get up to 900+ degrees and a home oven with a pizza stone can only reach 500° while commercial pizza ovens reach in the middle of the two.  

Another huge variable in different pizza doughs is the fermentation method as well as the type of yeast that is used. Many people use an instant rise yeast which only needs a short time to develop, while others use a regular yeast which takes hours to ferment. Some recipes ask for heated fermentation and others prefer a sourdough starter. For a refrigerated fermentation, the longer the fermentation the deeper the flavor. Many unique pizzas are made with dough that is fermented in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The three main factors in the fermentation process is time, moisture and temperature. All of these affect the flavor of the dough and the ideal method of cooking.

Stay tuned for Pizza 102.