View From Lodi, CA: Pizza, Pizza!
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Finally, a law passed that I support wholeheartedly.

Now I'll fill you in on the whole story. The new national law is in Italy and it pertains to the correct method to prepare the classic Neapolitan pizza.

Spurred on by the Association of Real Neapolitan Pizza and its 2,500 worldwide members, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi set down strict rules in 2004 as to what qualifies as "classic."

The standards are based on the research of Carlo Mangoni, professor of physiology and nutrition at the Second University of Naples.

To receive the nation's official Verace Pizza Napoletana stamp, the pie with the red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil) colors of the Italian flag must be round and no larger than 35 centimeters in diameter.

The dough (made with 00 flour) must be kneaded by hand, the tomatoes picked fresh from Italy's Mount Vesuvius region and the bufala mozzarella from the southern Apennine Mountains.

Additionally, only specific salts, yeast and extra virgin olive oil can be used.

Finally, the pizza must be cooked in a wood-burning oven.

Berlusconi's bold action fascinated me because, for the better part of five years, I have spent the majority of my free time reading about, studying and baking pizzas.

During that time, I've prepared thin crust pizzas, deep-dish pizzas, breakfast pizzas and pizzas on the grill - to name but a few.

In my personal quest for the best homemade pizza ever, I've played around with the dough, the toppings and the cheeses.

While I would label myself a pizza traditionalist, I will eat any kind of pizza you put in front of me.

Serve me a pizza with Canadian bacon and pineapple and it will be gone in a flash.

For further evidence that I will eat pizza of all types, note that at this very moment the number one pizza on my test kitchen list is peanut butter and jelly. As fans of the PB & J pizza tell me, "Don't knock it until you have tried it."

But the lure of the authentic VPN pizza is irresistible.

So imagine my thrill when, on a recent trip to Los Angeles, I learned that of the 12 VPN certified pizzerias in the U.S., one is Antica Pizzeria, located in Marina del Rey.

The owner, Peppe Miele, is the only person in the U.S. authorized to officially designate pizza as Genuine Neapolitan. He is the founding president of VNP in the United States

And, I became even more excited when I discovered that Miele welcomes (for a fee) apprentices. 

In a flash, I picked up the phone to call Miele. And when he invited me down to Antica Pizzeria for a visit, I drove as fast as the law allows to Marina del Rey.

"Teach me everything you know about pizza," I said to Miele.

"This is good," Miele replied. "You are like me. We don't care about money. We care about pizza."

Miele's program offers the pizza student two options: the five-day plan for $3,000 or the three-day workshop for $1,500.

Both plans represent a considerable investment. Perhaps it is Miele's way of separating the serious from the frivolous students. But despite the sums involved, Miele claims to get up to a dozen requests a day from aspiring pizzaiolos.

I could tell that Miele would be a tough taskmaster. Miele ticked off what he expects of an underling.

Under Miele's watchful eye, I would prepare batches of dough up to 13 pounds each. After they have an initial rise, the dough is cut into 9-ounce balls. Then, after a second rise the balls are flattened and stretched "by hand" to the thickness of a credit card. No rolling pins allowed, Miele emphasized.

I could expect to make 300 pizzas over a three-day period. 

Miele is a true crusader for outstanding pizza. He's a judge at the annual PizzaFest in Naples. And Miele hopes to open his own small VPN school in Los Angeles to train more chefs about art of real pizza and to rid Americans of what he calls "bad dream" pizza.

And as for my personal pizza plans, I am penciled in for a three-day summer session.

Once I have mastered pizzas under Miele's tutelage, I'll be effortlessly cranking out pizza Margheritas in my Lodi kitchen.

And who knows? As I drove a way from Antica Pizzeria, I had a vision:

I'm dressed in a white hat, a white t-shirt, white pants and a white apron folded neatly in half and tied around my waist.

In my fantasy, I'm standing in front of a 750-degree wood-burning oven spinning, rotating and removing pizzas at their exact moment of doneness.

Having mastered my craft, I will embark on a new and final career—stick man at a pizzeria.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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