Page last updated at 12:30 GMT, Thursday, 5 June 2008 13:30 UK

Protection for pizza sparks row in Naples

By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Naples

The tragedy of eating pizza in Naples is once you have tasted it, it's very hard to settle for anything less.

People eating pizza
Campaigners say they are defending the Napolitana

For the Neapolitans, pizza is part of everyday life.

Legend has it that in 1889, in the restaurant The Brandi, the Queen of Savoy was served a pizza made specially for her in the colours of the national flag; a red tomato base, a white mozzarella topping and to finish, a sprig of green basil.

A simple ingenious combination of tastes, which was named after the Queen - Margherita.

Today the Margherita is sold in every corner of the globe but so often it looks and tastes like a plastic impersonation.

So now, after years of gastronomic hand-wringing, the proud pizza makers of Naples are taking back what is rightfully theirs.

Regional speciality

From this summer onwards the Pizza Napolitana will be recognised by the European Union as a "regional speciality", with the same rank as French Champagne or German beer, which means anyone selling it in Europe under the official title, Pizza Napolitana, should theoretically be subject to strict inspections.

The rules published in the European Union's Official Journal were drawn up by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (the True Neapolitan Pizza Association).

The new law states the pizza must be no more than 35cm (14in) in diameter and no thicker than a third of a centimetre at its centre, rising to 2cm at the crust.

The tomatoes must be the San Marzano variety grown in the fertile soil at Mount Vesuvius' base.

The oil: extra virgin; the cheese: buffalo mozzarella. All the ingredients must be from the Campania region.

The oven must be wood-fired, and the pizza must cook in less than two minutes.

Rogue restaurants

But Naples is a city where they like to bend the rules. And over the years the definition of the classic pizza has been stretched further than the dough that makes it.

Whatever Brussels might have agreed with the True Neapolitan Pizza Association, there is still noisy disagreement over what the ingredients should actually be.

How to make an authentic Neapolitan pizza

At the Da Michele restaurant, where they began baking pizzas in the late 19th Century, they break the rules in more ways than one.

The pizzas are much larger than the average dinner plate, they use soyabean oil instead of the more expensive extra virgin oil, and in preference to buffalo mozzarella they use fior di latte, a mozzarella made from cows' milk.

And yet the pizza in this restaurant is widely considered to be one of the best if not the best - in Naples.

Da Michele will not be applying for the official Napolitana Pizza certificate not that it will unduly affect their business.

Chefs at risk

The director of the Real Pizza Association, Antonio Pace, says his organisation will take restaurants to court if they advertise Pizza Napolitana and are not making it according to the agreed rules.

"We are protecting one of the most ancient and most important gastronomic traditions," he said.

"We don't want the others not to make pizza, but we want them to make it as we make it - as it should be done."

Whatever disagreements there may be on the recipe of the classic Margherita - there is still one overriding principle on which everyone is agreed.

Pizza should never never - be topped with pineapple chunks.

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