You’ll be as knowledgeable as this lovely gentleman.
Pizza is kind of like sex – even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. So how do we manage to judge a pizza for it’s true merits, no matter how much it always seems to hit the spot? Here is our guide to separating the OK pizzas from the truly great.
TO CRISP OR NOT TO CRISP?
Most of us assume that only a crispy, sturdy slice of pizza that wont flop over when you pick it up is a good pizza. This isn’t always necessarily the case. In fact, true traditional pizza from Napoli is quite soft and thin as its cooked in 60-90 seconds, resulting in quite a flimsy pizza slice. Crispy can be good, but don’t expect it from a Napoli style pizza, which some argue is the only true style.
In the end it comes down to personal preference, but certainly don’t write off a pizza for not having a crispy base.
A fundamental element that can’t be messed up is the cheese. It should be melted but not burnt. Some slight charring is acceptable, but it should be more yellow or white than brown. Some prefer the pizza smothered in cheese, but note that minimal cheese is sometimes better to help the other ingredients cook through, as done in traditional Napoli style.
Most pizzas opt for Mozzarella cheese – of which there are varying types. Mozzarella is great for pizza because it melts well, tastes great and doesn’t burn easily, thought a lot of pizza places like to experiment with different styles of cheese as well as mozzarella.
Typically, lighter colour mozzarella is an indicator of quality, Like Buffalo Mozzarella and Fior Di Latte. White cheese is the good stuff, but if it’s more yellow and browns easily then chances are it’s cheap.
It’s common to think that more toppings make for a better pizza, but again traditional pizza does not typically have many toppings. In fact, the only pizza that are recognized by the pizza Vera authority in Naples are the Margherita, and the Marinara, both of which have a maximum of 2 toppings, apart from the sauce. Too many toppings can result in some of them not being cooked properly, or the dough and sauce being cold, so more toppings is not necessarily better.
As a guideline, there should be enough toppings on the pizza that there is some of each topping on every slice, and you get some (but not necessarily all) toppings in every bite.
As for the type of toppings, look out for things like aroma, flavour, texture, and how they work together to create the experience in your mouth. If you crave more immediately after the first slice, that is a good sign.
The pizza dough base is arguably the most important part. A good pizza base should have some coloring if it is cooked properly, either ‘leoparding’ (black spots) or an even brownish tinge, depending on the type of dough used. If the base comes out mostly white, especially underneath, then the chances are its undercooked. Conversely, if it is too black then it is burnt.
Pizza base should easy to bite through and tasty enough that you will want to eat your crust. It should not be too thick or too chewy.
Styles of pizza base vary from thin and crispy to chicago deep pan, all with their own merits. A universal rule is that it should be cooked through – not too doughey, and not too crunchy that it crumbles. it should have some culture in it to make it rise enough to form air bubbles – if it’s too flat or dense then it’s not quite a pizza.
The traditional method of making pizza dough is to allow the dough balls to sit at or near room temperature for over 24 hours, allowing the yeast to ferment and create a sourdough which results in a wonderful, beery flavor to the dough.
In conclusion, there are many varying factors in different styles of pizza, many of which come down to personal preference so it is impossible to objectively compare every single pizza, but there are some elements that are universal indicators. here’s a quick summary:
- Cheese should be melted but not burnt – there really is no excuse for brown or black cheese.
- Base can be crispy or soft – Napoli style should be soft, but if its cooked in a cast iron pan like Chicago style then crispy is preferred
- dough should be cooked through properly without being burnt. it may have some ‘leoparding’ or an even browning.
- dough should be tasty enough that you should want to finish your crusts voluntarily, and not just because your mother told you to.
- all toppings on every slice, and some toppings in every bite.
- flavour, aroma and texture!
So now you know how to tell the good pizza from the great – get out there and eat some more!