Pizza Day

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Americans young and old have a love affair with pizza and eat the equivalent of 350 slices per second, consuming an annual average of 46 slices of pizza each. Pizza lovers get this glorious day, February 9, National Pizza Day, to eat with abandon an overwhelming range of varieties, such as thin-crust, thick-crust, Chicago deep dish, Sicilian, Margherita, white, and toppings from Pepperoni and onions, to broccoli, pineapple, mushrooms and even pasta, there’s something for everyone to indulge in on Pizza Day - any way you slice it.

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Not a new obsession, the history of pizza dates back to ancient times, when Mediterranean cultures would form flatbread from flour and water, top it with spices, then bake it on a hot stone and enjoy as is or use as an edible bowl for thick stews. Historian Abba Eban has suggested that modern pizza "was first made more than 2000 years ago when Roman soldiers added cheese and olive oil to the Jewish matzah.”

Pizza was essentially Focaccia until the mid-1700s, when Italian peasants began using flat “pizzas” as a method for testing heat distribution in their communal ovens. To minimize waste, they topped the dough with tomatoes so it could also be eaten as a snack. Although tomatoes were said to be poisonous and grown only as an ornamental plant, the trend quickly caught on. Before long, pizza was being sold on the streets of Naples for every meal and by 1830 the “Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba” became the first true pizzeria, still producing pizza perfection to this day.

Legend has it that baker Raffaele Esposito baked a special pizza for Italian Queen Margherita of Sovoy, who was charmed by its colors, reminiscent of the Italian flag (green basil leaves, white mozzarella, and red tomatoes). It was then named “Pizza Margherita” and its popularity extended to royalty as well.

Pizza eventually journeyed to the United States with the arrival of Italian immigrants in the late 19th century. In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi opened the first licensed American pizzeria, Lombardi’s Pizzeria Napoletana, in New York City. Others followed suit and pizzerias soon became a hallmark of Italian culture. Mom and pop pizza shops gave way to franchised chains, and today, we’re more enamored with this Italian food than ever.

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This American favorite is more than just a quick meal- it’s a culture unto itself:

  • Pizza Brain, a Philadelphia museum, is home to the world’s largest collection of pizza memorabilia.
  • Tom Monaghan, the Domino’s Pizza chain founder, is one of three people worldwide who holds a degree in “Pizza-ology” from the “Domino’s College of Pizza-ology”—a business management program he founded in the 1980s.
  • Hawaiian pizza was invented in Canada in the 1960’s by Sam Panopoulos, a Greek-Canadian pizza shop owner.
  • American GIs are credited with broadening pizza’s consumer base after coming home from WWII in Italy with a craving for pizza.
  • The pizzas in Italy’s flagship pizzeria were cooked in an oven lined with lava from Mount Vesuvius, a volcano located on the Bay of Naples.
  • The world’s largest pizza was built on October 11, 1987, covering 10,000 square feet and measuring 140 feet across. It weighed 44,457 pounds, consisting of, among other items, 18,174 pounds of flour, 1,103 pounds of water, 6,445 pounds of sauce, 9,375 pounds of cheese and 2,387 pounds of pepperoni. The pie was cut into 94,248 slices and eaten by more than 30,000 spectators at the baking in Havana, Florida.
  • The annual Pizza Expo, the world’s largest pizza-only trade show, is held in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • Saturday is the most popular night for eating pizza.