On the Salita Santa Anna in Naples, not far from the Palazzo Reale, is nestled a modest restaurant called the Pizzeria Brandi, which has been serving various types of pizza in the same building for over 200 years. It first opened in 1780 as the Pizzeria Pietro e Basta Cosi (meaning "the pizzeria of Peter, and that's enough"), but eventually its childless owner, called simply Peter the Pizzamaker, transferred its ownership to Enrico Brandi.
Enrico's daughter was married to a pizzaiuolo (pizza-maker) named Raffaele Esposito, and it was he who was the running the restaurant in June of 1889 when the shop got a visit from royalty. King Umberto I of Italy had been the monarch since the death of his father a little over ten years earlier; he and Queen Margherita had once lived in Naples and, as they were planning a trip back to the city, they decided to indulge themselves in the local cuisine.
Mediterranean people had been enjoying rudimentary forms of pizza for centuries, if not millenia, beforehand, with various dishes comprised of flat bread with toppings. However, it was not until tomatoes were added about 100 years prior that pizza began to take its modern form. Pizza soon became a fad of central Europe; monarchs built outdoor pizza ovens at great expense, and Alexander Dumas mentioned it as a winter food in his work Le Corricolo in 1835.
|King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy|
Esposito made three pies for the visities royals: the first was a traditional marinara, with olive oil, garlic, and oregano, and topped with anchovies; the second, a bianca, or white pizza, with basil, pork fat, and caciocavallo cheese. Esposito believed garlic to be too gauche to serve to the King and Queen, so he created a patriotic third pizza, with tomato sauce, white mozzarella cheese, and basil standing in for the tri-colors of the Italian flag. Raffaelle Esposito and his wife, Maria Giovanna Brandi, personally transported the pizzas to the royal palace aboard a donkey-drawn cart.
The royals tasted of all three pizzas, but Queen Margherita especially loved the third version. Esposito immediately dubbed it the "Pizza Margherita" and wasted no time marketing his new flavor to any and all Neapolitan townspeople and visitors. On June 11, 1889, the office of the Queen sent Esposito the following letter, the original of which still hangs in the Pizzeria Brandi:
Dear Mr. Raffaele Esposito (Brandi),
I confirm that the three qualities of Pizza You prepared for Her Majesty the Queen were found excellent.
Head of the Table of the Royal Household
The new flavor was a rousing success, and ever since then, mozzarella cheese has been a staple of pizza everywhere. Tourists flocked to what was by then renamed the Pizzera Brandi to taste the original. One such tourist was Gugliermo Marconi, inventor of wireless radio, who visited in 1896 but complained that the cheese was too stringy; "Perhaps," his quick-witted waiter replied, "Marchese Marconi should have invented wireless mozzarella."
Links and sources:
The Pizzeria Brandi's home page, in Naples, Italy
Stradley, Linda, "History and Legends of Pizza", on What's Cooking America, retrieved April 27, 2012.
Reinhart, Peter, American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza, Random House Digital, 2003.
Schwartz, Arthur, Naples at Table: Cooking in Campania, Harper Collins, 1998.