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In the Shoes of a Pizzaiolo


Last week, students enrolled in Umbra’s Food Studies Program stepped into the shoes of a pizzaiolo as they tried their hand at pizza making at local pizzeria, Pizza e Musica.

To provide a backdrop to their experience, Prof. Elisa Ascione treated students to a brief history of pizza and its cultural significance. Many were surprised to learn that while pizza is known as an Italian delicacy, it is not actually Italian in origins. What started as a form of flatbread to provide sustenance to our Neolithic ancestors has since evolved to the leavened delight we enjoy today. Pizza’s rise to fame within Italy came in 1889 when Raffaele Esposito, a pizzaiolo in Naples, was invited to make pizzas for the Italian King Umberto I and Queen Margherita. According to legend, the queen so loved his creation of tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil – coincidentally the colors of the Italian flag – that he named the pizza Margherita in her honor. Whether fact or fiction used to unify the newly unified nation-state, pizza has become an integral part of Italy’s national identity.

Joe shows off his finished pizza during the Food Studies Program’s Pizza Workshop.

Watching the skilled hands of Pizza e Musica’s pizzaiolo, Gerry, students were shown how to spread the dough, spiral the perfect amount of sauce, and top it off with fresh toppings and a drizzle of olive oil. Using the pala, or pizza shovel, Gerry seamlessly lifted the pizza from the marble countertop and placed it in the waiting wood-fired oven.

While Gerry’s skills are quite refined, Umbra’s students gave him a run for his money, each donning an apron and taking a turn at his craft. Final results varied from the classic margherita to prosciutto, mushrooms and fresh arugula, but all were delicious and served as a wonderful, well-earned meal!

Umbra’s Food Studies Program’s goal is to encourage students to think about food and ask basic questions about what we eat; where it comes from; is it important if it is local or organic; and the significance of labels, fundamental questions to life in a globalized world.

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