What is a Margherita pizza anyway? A lot of people think it’s the generic name for a cheese and tomato pizza, but there’s a difference between cheese pizza, plain pizza and Margherita pizza.
Italians take their pizzas seriously, and according to the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, there are three types of genuine Neapolitan pizzas, and one of them is pizza Margherita.
Most British pizza lovers think of a Margherita pizza as being tomato sauce on the base and then a mix of grated mozzarella and maybe cheddar or other cheese melted on top. A genuine Margherita is made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra-virgin olive oil. The sliced mozzarella is laid on the tomato sauce base and melted, then fresh basil is sprinkled over the top. It’s a far tastier version than our own insipid and greasy frozen pizzas.
But Why the Name?
The most widespread explanation is that Margherita of Savoy, who was once queen consort of Italy, was visiting Naples with King Umberto I in 1889. Tired of the French food she’d been given on her trip, she apparently asked Raffaele Esposito, the most famous pizza maker in Naples to make her three pizzas. He made her one with garlic, and one with anchovies, and she didn’t like either.
The pizza she liked best was made with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, which also represented the three colours of the Italian flag. Esposito then named it after the queen. A few days later, she had a chamberlain take him a thank you note, which hangs on the wall of the Pizzeria Brandi to this day. It’s a cute but convenient story, and one which is disputed.
People have since tried to prove the veracity of the thank you letter and Royal seal of approval. Some suggest it was a clever ploy in the 1930’s by the descendants of Esposito to try and boost the pizzeria’s flagging fortunes in the world depression.
The alternate theory suggests that the word ‘margherita’ translates to ‘daisy’ in Italian. Some have suggested that it was called that because the mozzarella and basil was laid on the base in the shape of a daisy.
Whatever the origins of the name pizza Margherita, you can be sure that when you eat a genuine one made in the traditional way, it’s certainly tasty enough to be given a Royal seal of approval!