June 11 should be a global holiday. Pizza is consumed across the entire planet and even though it looks and tastes different in every part of the world, the image of tomato and cheese on crust is pizza’s most recognized symbol. The original format of that pizza is called the Pizza Margherita in Italy, with its combination of fresh mozzarella, crushed tomato, and basil. It is said that these three ingredients compose this particular pizza as a nationalistic tribute, with white mozzarella, red tomato, and green basil mirroring the colors of the Italian flag. The pizza was allegedly named for Queen Margherita of Savor, royal consort to King Umberto I.
Sadly, the only evidence we have of this event ever happening is this letter from Gali Camillo, head of the royal kitchen, to Raffaele Esposito, pizzaiolo/owner of the pizzeria allegedly visited by Queen Margherita – the letter is dated 11 June, 1889. But the letter raises some questions. If you’re sharp on your Italian, you’ll see that it makes no mention of the Italian flag, its colors, or any ingredients of the pizzas consumed. It only mentions that the queen enjoyed three pizzas. There’s no mention of a favorite. There’s actually a great article in Food, Culture & Society by a scholar named Zachary Nowak that destroys the letter’s claim of authenticity by pointing out inconsistencies with the royal crest and Camillo’s signature. It’s a great read!
Some celebrate the Pizza Margherita as the first to combine tomato and cheese, but that combination goes back to at least 1835, when it’s mentioned in a journal by author Alexandre Dumas. And it’s hiiiiighly likely it goes back much further, but existed without documentation since it was a peasant food.
All we can really say is that today is the 128th anniversary of the date on the infamous Pizza Margherita letter, which is currently hanging in the pizzeria that claims to have invented the famous combo. Pizzeria Brandi (in Naples, Italy). Either way, today is a celebration of Pizza Margherita and there’s nothing wrong with that.