About a year ago, the management at Il Canale in Georgetown approached the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana — the group dedicated to protecting the good name of Neapolitan pizza — about attaining the official VPN stamp for its pies. They figured it was a slam-dunk. They already had the Italian ingredients, not to mention a Neapolitan chef and an Acunto pizza oven straight from Italy.
Then the VPN inspector arrived and informed Il Canale that VPN would never certify its pies as authentic Neapolitan with that cruddy American dough mixer.
“We had an old mixer that wasn’t entirely up to their standards,” says manager Francesco Crovetti. “So we had to buy this new mixer that we had to import from Italy.”
And just like that, Il Canale became the latest VPN member in January, just one of 60 U.S. pizzerias to be certified by the organization. Four others can be found in the Washington area: 2 Amys in the District, Oro Pomodoro in Rockville, Pizzeria da Marco in Bethesda and Pupatella in Arlington.
What exactly does the certification mean? (Other than the pizzeria is out $2,000 to cover the certification fee?) Among other things, it means the pizzeria follows all the exact procedures — and uses all the right (Italian) ingredients — to be considered genuine Neapolitan pizza. The idea is to protect the old pizza-making traditions in Naples, but some believe the VPN certification, not to mention the TSG label approved by the European Union, mostly protects Italian tourism, Italian trade and Italian manufacturers and farmers.
Genuine Neapolitan pizza, after all, must be made with San Marzano tomatoes, genuine buffalo mozzarella from Italy and Italian “00” flour. It must be cooked in a real wood-burning oven (often from Italy) and apparently mixed with a real Italian mixer.
Regardless the motivations behind the VPN certification, the certificate itself serves as a powerful marketing tool for pizzerias that earn it. Being a VPN member now, Crovetti notes, means that those who care about genuine Neapolitan pizza can review the list of VPN-approved pizzerias and frequent them.
But, the manager says, the certification also is a source of pride for owner Giuseppe “Joe” Farruggio and his team. Next month, Farruggio, chef Antonio Biglietto and Crovetti will attend the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas where they will be presented their certificate from VPN.
“We wanted to be part of it,” Crovetti says of VPN. “Just knowing that we’re part of it makes us proud.”