June 11, 1889 might be an important day in pizza history. It’s the date on the famous letter you’ll find hanging on the wall at Pizzeria Brandi in Naples, Italy. The pizzeria touts that letter as evidence that Margherita of Savoy, royal consort to King Umberto I, hired their pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito to cook pizza for her so that she could eat the food of that city’s common people. According to legend, she loved the pizza so much that Esposito named it after he. Part of the explanation is that this pizza with white mozzarella, red tomato, and green basil echoed the colors of the Italian flag, which helped it to win the queen’s favor.
This all may very well be true, but there’s not much hard evidence to prove it. For instance, the letter itself has been called into question by Zachary Nowak, an incredible historian with a PhD in American studies from Harvard University. He believes that the letter isn’t genuine, based on a series of discoveries he made while analyzing the document. There’s also plenty of evidence that pizza with tomato and cheese (and likely basil) was being made long before 1889. And to those of us who think that this instruction of pizza to royalty was the big story, we actually know Margherita stopped by Naples for pizza nine years earlier.
Whether or not the date is significant, we still use today to celebrate the idea that ingredients from different parts of the world have come together to create a basis for something with which we all connect.