/Pepe in Grani and the Politics of Pizza

Pepe in Grani and the Politics of Pizza

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Photo: Luciano Furia

Pizza is never just pizza. There is history, culture and politics woven into its glutinous strands. And in Caiazzo, a once-declining village in Campania’s Alto Casertano sub-region 50 km from Naples, pizza is life. The deity in this analogy is Franco Pepe, a tall, lean vision in white widely recognized as Italy’s (hence, the world’s) greatest pizzaiolo. His pizzeria, Pepe in Grani, serves highly digestible, supremely delectable, masterfully crafted, thick-rimmed pizzas made from the best ingredients available. But its importance isn’t limited to craft or flavor.

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The pizzeria occupies a three-story stone building situated in a steep alley in Caiazzo’s historical center. More than a few locals questioned Franco’s sanity when he decided to open in what was then a desolate place. But the 430 pizzas he served during my visit last Saturday, coupled with the narrow alley packed with people waiting for tables, would seem to prove otherwise. Franco Pepe and his team have breathed new life into Caiazzo, which has become a veritable pizza pilgrimage destination since Pepe in Grani opened in October 2012.

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Diners come from Naples, Benevento, Caserta, Rome, Milan and beyond to eat Franco’s pizzas. Their visits bring revenue to the town’s shops, bars and parking meters. Before Pepe in Grani opened, Caiazzo’s historical center saw two shop closures a month. Now, requests for business permits are on the rise and the town’s shops have extended their opening hours to accommodate the new activity. Employment rates have improved, as well.

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Pepe in Grani has also stimulated the Alto Casertano’s agricultural life. Franco works closely with small producers and local farms to obtain the ingredients for his pizzas and calzones. One of his greatest assets is Vincenzo Coppola, a young agronomist dedicated to discovering and preserving the biodiversity of the area. Together, they are seeking to revive an indigenous grain dubbed “autonomia” which was abandoned in the 1950s. They recovered seeds from a 90-year old farmer and will harvest and mill the grain locally.

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They also work with La Sbecciatrice, a farm in nearby Villa Santa Croce that grows heirloom tomatoes like the pomodoro riccio and vernino genuino, as well as chickpeas and beans. Pepe tops his pizzas with these and other local products like Letino potatoes, onions from Alife and mozzarella from Il Casolare in Alvignano. His Petrazzuoli brand extra virgin olive oil comes from centuries-old trees in Ruviano.

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Each pizza, therefore, is the result of a set of choices. Franco and his team have chosen to highlight the natural bounty of their region. They have chosen to stay in Caiazzo in spite of the obstacles it presented and continues to present. They have chosen to forge responsible relationships with the land, their producers and their clientele. Every pizza is the fruit of thoughtful planning, planting, producing and harvesting which respects the rhythms of nature and transmits flavor, which will simply change the way you think about food. Go taste for yourself and you’ll see this is not hyperbole. Like I said, it’s not just pizza.

Pepe in Grani is open Mon-Sat from 19:00 until midnight and Sun from 12:30-midnight. As Caiazzo has few accommodation options, inquire about booking one of the two rooms above the pizzeria.

Special thanks to photographer Luciano Furia for the spectacular images.

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2017-02-17T15:16:34+00:00 January 15th, 2014|Categories: Carbs, Culture, Food & Wine, Gastronomic Traditions, Naples & Campania, Pizza, Restaurants, Travel|21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Mamma Parla January 15, 2014 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    Mamma Mia! I want to go directly there on my next trip to Roma!

  2. Sue January 15, 2014 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    Me too

  3. Kelly January 15, 2014 at 8:12 pm - Reply

    Wow. Everything looks and sounds amazing.

  4. Sabino January 15, 2014 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    Franco is the best !
    A Firenze ancora se lo ricordano e continuano a chiedere la TERZA serata !
    😉

  5. Sandro January 15, 2014 at 9:06 pm - Reply

    Probably the best article I’ve had the opportunity to read about this great craftsman.Tthe word ” pizzaiolo” does’nt really fit to a man who raised the standards of the most famous product of my land to a level never achieved before.

  6. Eleonora January 15, 2014 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    Brava Katie. This is really good stuff.

  7. Giuseppe January 16, 2014 at 9:15 am - Reply

    Grande Katie, hai colto il significato profondo del lavoro di Franco. Spero presto un giorno di mangiare 6 pizze a testa a Caiazzo insieme.

  8. Mamma Parla January 16, 2014 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    I can read this over and over again…you tell such a beautiful story! Bravisima!!!

  9. Faith Willinger January 16, 2014 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    Bravissima. Franco is the god of pizza. Worth a pilgrimage. Warning: After Franco’s pizza, almost all other pizza will disappoint.

  10. Damian Byrne January 18, 2014 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    Am back in Italy in September travelling with a foodie friend to his family home in Sicily from Rome… Sounds like a perfect place to stop off!

  11. Mike Dlan January 18, 2014 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    Very brill not a spare crumb of a word. This is the most sinuous and tensile description of a pizza joint I have ever read Katie. I am transported , along with the ghosts of Craig Claiborne and Waverly Root.

  12. Lisa January 19, 2014 at 1:13 am - Reply

    Wonderful! Any suggestions on getting to Caiazzo from Rome?

    • Katie January 19, 2014 at 3:45 pm - Reply

      @lisa we rented a car. if you plan far enough in advance and have flexible travel dates, you can get a €9.99 a day rate from sixt. otherwise, i think there are buses from caserta and naples

  13. Lucy January 24, 2014 at 3:47 pm - Reply

    😮 wow. Well I know where I’m going on my next holiday.
    Lucy x
    La Lingua : Food + Life in Milano

  14. Erin January 25, 2014 at 3:32 am - Reply

    That looks incredible. I actually had the best Napoli style pizza I’ve ever eaten in Nagoya, Japan. This Japanese chef won world’s best pizza at a competition in Naples a few years ago!

  15. s January 26, 2014 at 3:08 pm - Reply

    We need more phenomenal people like him in the world – who are considerate of the land they take from. Bravo x s

  16. Travel&Lust January 31, 2014 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    Congratulations on your post! The province of Naples has longed been known for ‘authentic’ pizzas and we just might need to skip our summer diets this time and just go south!

  17. […] in nearby Caiazzo. Since opening Pepe in Grani in October 2012, Franco Pepe’s pizzeria has become nothing less then a pilgrimage destination. We joined the ranks of his disciples on our fourth visit, ascending a stone alleyway towards the […]

  18. where it comes from | rachel eats April 24, 2015 at 11:42 am - Reply

    […] of the good lunch. The first was south to Campania and a town called Grano to meet a man called Franco Pepe who makes pizza.  The second was east across the Apennines then down to the coast and a town […]

  19. Salvatore October 25, 2015 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    It was refreshing and exhilarating to read about Franco Pepe in the book “Passion for Pizza.” I would love to spend a couple of months working beside this pizza legend, even though I am anything but a pizzaiolo. Pizza is more than a passion with Mr. Pepe; it’s an obsession, and that is why I am so impressed with what this fascinating man is trying to accomplish. His pizza’s look extraordinary.

    Good Luck to Franco Pepe in his attempt to change the world of pizza.

    Toto from the USA.

  20. […] and indirectly his connection to the land of Caiazzo was constant. As Katie Parla writes in her excellent review of his restaurant, “Each pizza, therefore, is the result of a set of […]

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