On the day that this blog is launched the New York Times published a story on a fascinating and unusual food news story!
In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, two kosher pizza joints are duking it out! The established stalwart Basil Pizza & Wine Bar took upstart Calabria to a Jewish law Court on the grounds of violating an ancient law. The owners, both Orthodox Jews, faced off in the Rabbinical Court of Borough Park, with the owner of Basil claiming that the owner of Calabria is violating the Talmud law of “ruinous competition” by selling similar pizzas at a lower price and poaching customers from Basil’s wait line. According to the article, ruling on “ruinous competition” business claims is an unusual use of this court system but not unheard of. It has even gotten the backing of the NY State Supreme Court in the past.
The verdict went to the plaintiff, Basil, stating that Calabria must now serve “New York-style pizza”, whatever that means. Of course, Basil is claiming that Calabria did not change things up enough so that battle continues.
All this brings me to two questions: What is kosher pizza? And what is New York-style pizza?
Let’s start with kosher pizza:
- NO pork, obviously.
- The making of the cheese should be supervised by a Jew that knows the kosher law. A minuscule addition of kosher rennet is most likely included thus making kosher pizza unacceptable for vegetarians. The rennet must come from a calf which has been slaughtered under Jewish supervision and in accordance with halakha. While this goes against the well-known law of not mixing meat and dairy, the minuscule amount makes it OK. Artificial rennet may be used if the substance was created under supervision which is highly uncommon.
- The dough is to be made from grains planted before the Passover of the present year. This can often be overlooked outside of Israel.
- The pizza can never be cooked during the Sabbath.
- Dairy and meat DO not mingle. But non-shellfish seafood, including the common Jewish bagel staple cured and smoked salmon, may be added. As well as eggs. Kosher pizzas are surprisingly NOT vegetarian.
So what is New York-style pizza?
- NY-style pizza is “Neapolitan-American”. (The Neapolitan is really a buffalo mozzarella on top of tomato sauce pizza, cooked in a coal oven, and is smaller than its American counterpart.)
- The crust is made from a hand tossed high-gluten dough, covered with a layer of tomato sauce, then topped in with low moisture mozzarella cheese, a.k.a. Fior di latte, and crispy from edge to edge. But not too crispy as the slices must be pliable enough to fold in half.
- NY-style pizza was the first sold in the United States. The first pizzeria in the USA was founded in NYC in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi. Lombardi’s pizzeria is still serving coal cooked pizza in Little Italy.
Since the defendant in this story is named Calabria, we should touch on the fact that Calabria, Italy, has its own special pizza, pizza Calabrese. It is usually a spicy pizza, often with anchovies, cured meats, olives, garlic, and then some grated cheese added on top after cooking. Is it traditionally kosher? Uh, no.