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A Michelin-starred Italian chef made a whole-grain pizza. Outrage ensued.

The margherita at Washington’s Menomale, whose owners have been certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. (Dayna Smith for The Washington Post)

Three years ago, the Michelin-starred chef Carlo Cracco earned a public censure from the town council in Amatrice for his unorthodox version of the city’s famous pasta dish, amatriciana. Now Cracco has earned the wrath of the locals in Naples, the birthplace of Neapolitan pizza, for the chef’s healthful, whole-grain take on a margherita pie.

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Neapolitan writer Angelo Forgione has apparently led the revolt against Cracco’s pizza, which, if Forgione’s photo below is accurate, looks like a pile of bird seed smothered in tomato sauce and barely melted mozzarella. Forgione, whose Facebook fan page has more than 40,000 followers, called out the chef for charging 16 euros (or nearly $20) for a margherita at his new restaurant in Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Forgione notes, according to a Facebook translation, that a traditional margherita pizza in Naples would fetch around 5 euros (or just more than $6).

The author then took a swipe at Cracco, a highly decorated chef who lost a Michelin star last year at one of his other restaurants in Milan. “We understand why #cracco lost a Michelin Star,” Forgione wrote, according to Facebook’s translation.

London’s Daily Telegraph picked up the story from there, unearthing other malcontents who protested Cracco’s pizza as an abomination of the classic margherita. Most in the story complained about the exorbitant price of the pie instead of its deviations from Neapolitan traditions. But commenters on Forgione’s Facebook page were more direct in their disdain of Cracco’s work. Some gave it a thumbs-down. Others posted a vomiting emoji.

“You can study 24 hours a day,” wrote one person, presumably addressing Cracco. “But the margherita is unbeatable, if made and eaten in Naples.”

Unsightly,” wrote another commenter. “Pizza is a serious thing, and it doesn’t have to be improvised.”

Restaurant critic Ernesto Pentaglia wrote, according to the Telegraph piece: “We are certain that nobody will go on purpose to Carlo Cracco to eat his revisited pizza margherita, except perhaps some foreign punter willing to try the experience of his new restaurant.”

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The furor is understandable. In general, Italians have an appreciation for the historical roots of their cuisine, and in particular they have a passion for the margherita, a pizza ostensibly named after a 19th-century Italian queen (although the BBC has raised serious doubts about the backstory). Last year, UNESCO added the “art of Neapolitan pizzaiuolo” to its “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” list. In 2009, the European Union granted margherita pizza an official protected status, which means pizzerias that follow the rules can use a “Traditional Speciality Guaranteed” logo on their menus, separating their pies from all the pretenders.

The rules themselves are laid down by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, and restaurateurs will frequently tell you the regulations are as much about protecting Italian products as they are about protecting the integrity of the pizza. Regardless, a Neapolitan pizza must be round, with a diameter no more than about 13.5 inches. Its crust must be soft and elastic, with a raised lip. The dough must include highly refined “00” flour, water, salt and yeast. The dough must go through two separate fermentations. The base must be formed by hand, not by rolling pins or presses. The toppings — the mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil, plum tomatoes — must be sourced from the Campania region. And the pizza must be baked in a wood-fired oven at temperatures between 800 and 900 degrees Fahrenheit.

The margherita must also have basil leaves on it. Forgione specifically calls out Cracco for his lack of basil. He obviously could have mentioned many other violations of the Neapolitan pizza code, including that whole-grain base.

A couple of days after he ostensibly caused the uproar, Forgione felt compelled to clarify his thoughts on his Facebook page. He was mostly outraged, he said, by the price of Cracco’s margherita. “My observations pointed the finger on the price, 16 euros, for a pizza that cracco defines [as] ‘snacks,’ ” according to Facebook’s translation.

This isn’t the first time Cracco has come under attack in his country. In 2015, the chef acknowledged to a national television audience that he used “unpeeled, sauteed garlic” in his amatriciana, according to the Guardian. The city leaders in Amatrice, where the dish originated, were not amused. They say a real amatriciana uses only a precious few ingredients, including guanciale (or pork jowl), olive oil, pecorino cheese, white wine, San Marzano tomatoes, black pepper, chile flakes, salt and a pasta (usually bucatini).

The Guardian wrote:

The town’s deputy mayor, Piergiuseppe Monteforte, denied that officials were being too strict. “Use one ingredient for another, it changes not only the flavor of a dish but also the history of it,” Monteforte told the Guardian. “If you use ingredients like garlic or onion in an amatriciana, it means you are ignoring a pastoral tradition that is almost 1,000 years old, passed down from generation to generation.”

Then again, the Guardian noted that the dish was originally known as “white amatriciana.” It was only late in the 1700s, after cooks added tomato and chile pepper to the dish, both New World ingredients, that the classic recipe took form. Tradition, in other words, can be a moving object.

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