**In celebration of Women’s History Month, I’ll be posting about women in the pizza community every few days this month. The pizza biz is pretty male-dominated, so let’s take this opportunity to throw the spotlight onto some of the women who are doing amazing work in the pizza world.
[This photo is from Norma’s Pizza Obsessives interview on the now-defunct Slice.]
Norma Knepp is one of my favorite people in the pizza universe. She has a tiny pizza stand at Root’s Market in Manheim, PA that’s only open on Tuesdays. Sounds like the kind of place that would sell gross reheated slices, right? JUST THE OPPOSITE! Norma won first place for New York style pizza in the 2016 Caputo Cup , a competition held in the extremely competitive marketplace that is New York City. She is loved and respected by everybody in the pizza community not just because her pizza is outstanding, but because of her limitless passion for the pie.
Ten years ago, Norma didn’t know anything about pizza making. She and her husband Albert were running a caramel corn stand Root’s Market, a Lancaster County landmark with local produce and livestock auctions. When Albert’s health problems pulled him away from the stand, Norma tried her hand at other foods. Nothing stuck. She noticed the lack of pizza available at the market and asked the manager if she could rent a stall and give it a try.
Essentially starting her pizza education from scratch, Norma schooled herself with online forums like PizzaMaking.com. Click that link and you’ll see a website that looks like it was designed by my little brother in 1996, but it’s one of the most powerful tools for the budding (or even experienced) pizza maker. She benefitted from the experiences of other forum members and used their feedback to craft her own version of classic New York slice pizza.
I have never personally been to the market but it is absolutely at the top of my hit list. Norma once brought me 2-day-old slices that I reheated at home and nearly cried it was so good. Like, seriously. So. Good. I don’t hyperbolize about food but this is something worth booking an entire vacation around. Hotels are probably pretty inexpensive in Manheim, PA. Maybe you can just crash in a random barn. Seriously, hers was my favorite slice of 2016.
You already know she won this huge competition in NYC last year (check out this great news segment), but that didn’t stop Norma from continuing her quest for improvement. She’s is constantly trying new pizza making methods, posting about her experiments on Facebook and on her own blog. Be forewarned, If you ask her a simple question about fermentation you’ll probably get a dissertation on the various methods she’s tried over the past decade – all with an incredible degree of humility.
Norma Knepp is without a doubt the most inspiring pizza maker I have ever met. Her excitement and energy reminds me that life, as pizza, is a work in progress. You can have any history and any background, but the only thing that matters when you’re making pizza is that the next pie should be better than the last.