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As soon as the pie hit the table at Pizzeria Orso, I knew I was in the presence of Edan MacQuaid, the pizzaiolo who has worked the wood-burning ovens at 2Amys, Pizzeria Paradiso, and RedRocks. I’d recognize his margherita pizza anywhere.
It’s not just the puffy crust, mottled with char and radiating a wood-smoke aroma as enticing as freshly baked bread. It’s the careful arrangement of colors: the rosy splashes of tomato sauce, the white eggshell dollops of fresh mozzarella, the wilted myrtle-colored leaves of basil, and the pale green rivulets of olive oil, which, in turn, tint the exposed crust to the most delectable shade of yellow.
This is pizza-making as art.
The flavors are even more intoxicating than the colors. There’s a balance to MacQuaid’s margherita that I don’t find with many other interpretations. The fresh acid sweetness of the tomatoes, the cool creaminess of the mozz, the salty smokiness of the cornicione, the cleansing licorice of the basil, and the….the incomprehensible sourness of the crust.
I keep thinking that I’m imagining the sourness, so I keep eating more crust to find out, even long after I’m full. The sourness is always present.
It’s not until I speak with MacQuaid a few days later that it all makes sense. The pizzaiolo says he puts a little sourdough into his pizza dough, which I think is a great, ballsy move. It not only adds flavor, but it’s a small razz to the Neapolitan polizia who want to dictate exactly how their pies should be produced, right down to the hydration level in the pizza dough.
But then I remember that MacQuaid has affixed the letters “DOC” next to his margherita pizza on the menu. The letters stand for “Denominazione di Origine Controllata,” and they imply that MacQuaid is following the rules, set down by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture in 2004, for a genuine margherita pizza from Naples.
Now, I’m no authority on these Neapolitan pizza rules. Every time I think I understand them, someone tells me I don’t. But from what I’ve read, I’m pretty damn sure sourdough is not allowed in a DOC margherita pizza. I ask MacQuaid about the addition. He has a ready answer.
Back before the invention of commercial yeasts, MacQuaid tells me, pizza makers used sourdough starters to facilitate fermentation in their dough. There is an strong argument among pizzaioli that such a method doesn’t violate the spirit of the Italian government’s Neapolitan pizza laws. I floated this theory by the notoriously scrupulous baker and occasional pizza maker, Mark Furstenberg, and he agreed that it makes sense.
So I asked MacQuaid the obvious question: Did he secure official certification from the pizza authorities for his margherita pie?
“All that I’m stating there [with the DOC on his menu] is that the margherita is authentic,” MacQuaid tells me. “Is it certified DOC? No….But it meets the standards of the DOC certification.”
You know what? I’ve come to the point where I don’t care much about this whole authentic, by-the-book Neapolitan pizza certification puffery. At least not here in the states, where we have a culture of freewheeling experimentation. When I travel to Italy, then I’ll care about authentic Neapolitan pizza. Back here, I just want a good, honest, full-flavored pie. If it’s merely based on tradition, that’s good enough for me.
Here’s the bottom line for me: Authentic or not, legal or not by Italian agriculture rules, MacQuaid’s margherita pizza is the best pie I’ve eaten in a long time. 2Amys, you’ve been officially put on notice.