Wild flowers were in full bloom everywhere as Ginny and I arrived in Italy this May. Our initial days were slow paced, enjoying the beautiful countryside, fresh ricotta, and local wine (Cassavechia) provided by the gracious Lombardi family at Le Campestre, in Castel di Sasso.

We met the owners of Terre Principe, Manuella Pieancastelli and Pepe Mancini, from whom we buy wine at Franco Pepe’s Antica Osteria Pizzeria in Caiazzo for dinner. Franco’s crust is a work of art.

On a day trip, we ate warm bufala mozzarella fresh from its bath at Caseificio il Casolare in Alvignano. We toured La Reggia in nearby Casserta, the royal palace of the Bourbon King, Charles the Third. The palace dates back to the mid 1700’s and its splendor rivals Versailles in France. From the palace in Caserta one can take a 3 km walk along gently inclining formal pools. This passeggiata leads to a natural mountain waterfall that feeds the pools, which at its base is surrounded by sculptural fountains and lovely gardens.

In Napoli, we took an archeological and historical tour led by Domenico Mazzella, whom we have known for several years by way of his fabulous and centrally located B & B, Donna Regina. Domenico’s knowledge of art, architecture, archeology, philosophy, food, and wine is second to none. His B & B is filled with 20th century Neapolitan art, books, furnishings, and each room is uniquely designed.

The breakfast area looks onto a little school where you can hear the children sing and watch them at their morning lessons. Thanks again to Arthur Schwartz, the Food Maven, for telling us about Donna Regina when we were together at Tenuta Seliano in Paestum several years ago. For information on Arthur’s and Baronessa Cecilia Bellelli Barlatta’s cooking classes go to For a great local meal, try Osteria Pisano near the Duomo in Naples.

While I had a few specific pizza plans for this trip, a surprise encounter with Antimo Caputo at Antonio Starita’s pizzeria in Martedei upped the ante. I called Antimo just to say hello; twenty minutes later he zipped over on his motorino to make a special offer involving a very important food event.

Organized by celebrated chef Gennaro Esposito, whose Terre del Saracino in Vico Equenze is famous for its outstanding cuisine, his Festa a Vico has been drawing international attention for several years. Antimo’s invitation was for me to participate on the final day of the event for “La Pizza centimitro per centimitro, La Tradizione molecola a molecola.” Following the “90-starred chefs, 80 emerging chefs, 10,000 samples of signature cuisine, 200 wines,” the third day’s focus would be pizza and its craft. Without learning any more detail, I agreed! We all felt it would be a great opportunity--for all of us! We said goodbye to Antimo. Next stop: Palinuro in the Cilento.

I was excited to show Ginny (my wife and co-owner of Spacca Napoli) the Cilento. With Domenico’s house in Palinuro as a base, we shared its beautiful, magical mix of sea, mountains and valleys. Seafood, handmade pastas, grilled meats, local grains, vegetables and fruits, herbal digestivi, wild flowers, intimate towns, abandoned medieval villages, caves along the coast and its interiors, powerful storms, musica folklore; we drank in its many pleasures. (photos from Pranzo al villa balbi).

While dining with Cono at his agriturismo, we came up with a brilliant idea: to arrange a meeting between Cono to Liliana at Le Campestre. Cono and the Lombardi family are cut from the same cloth. Their celebration of the earth and its bounty and their joy in sharing it is inspiring. After seeing images of Le Campestre, Cono, a fellow shepherd and cheese maker, was game. Liliana was also interested.

Ginny has worked with a particular artistic form for several years while traveling. Its actualization in various landscape settings uses stones, driftwood, leaf matter, and spices. Ginny made one on the beach at Palinuro, using detritus washed ashore, in homage to Joseph Beuys, while I filmed the process.

Some of you who know Spacca may still not know that it was because of Ginny and her art that we lived in Italy. Ginny painted in Florence, I was a casalingo (househusband). Our daughter Sarah was our passport to good will. The years in Florence and the Gargano introduced us to a way of being and living, the generosity and kindness of which we have never forgotten. (Photos of pranzo al Palinuro) My mission is to offer it at Spacca Napoli, sharing it with my staff and the community, near and far, who supports us.

Watch She Wants to Know from Ginny Sykes on Vimeo.

In Palinuro we visited with another fantastic artisan! Franco Fucciolo has Pizzeria Med Farine Club, and is it worth the trip! We ate, and I made pizza with him. Each person brings their own approach to the craft of dough making, so each encounter is an opportunity to learn.

In Naples, Ginny made a ceramic relief sculpture. Domenico’s cousin, Laura has a studio near the B & B. Being with Laura and her two colleagues was a highlight.

After a little more time in Naples, we went to the Island of Capri where we hiked, watched sunsets, and ate more great fish at Il Cucciolo and Ristorante Lido del Faro. In the town of Anacapri is the lovely Chiesa San Michele built in 1719. Its stunning floor is made of hundreds of individually painted ceramic tiles. It is similar to the Cathedral in Otranto in Puglia. The theme of both is the Garden of Eden and the tree of life.

Back in Rome: with friends we took a misty four hour walk along the old Appian Way. Via Appia was constructed in the third century, connects Rome to Brindisi, and was the world’s first highway. It is evocative, alive with ruins, villas, and archeological sites. In Rome we tried this fantastic gelateria called Giolitti, which dates back to 1900.

Gabriele Bonci’s Pizzarium is not to be missed. He is a master baker and pizza maker. Known in Rome as the Michelangelo of Pizza, his style is known as pizza al taglio.

Using the finest ingredients, his dough sometimes incorporates a sour dough starter said to date back to World War One. Impressive. He believes a pizza maker needs to start off under the tutelage of a baker; by learning how to make all types of bread and pastry, one is in a better position to decide which direction to take as a pizza maker. Gabrielle offers a class on bread making which I will take someday.

Ginny returned to Chicago, I to Naples for an interview with Professor Paolo Masi, Department Chair of the School of Agriculture, University of Naples, who is doing research on the science of flour. Just a few days before Ginny’s departure, I learned what the focus would be in Vico Equenze on the third day of the Festa A Vico: the art and science of pizza’s impasto (dough). Most people who eat pizza might think about its merits, but some of us truly get into the minutia of it. We wonder how the dough is made, how it is extended, how it is baked, how it performs, how it tastes, how digestible it is. This passionate obsession would fill the day’s event. Gennaro Esposito, with Molino Caputo and the University of Napoli “Frederico 11” created a program including six well-known and respected pizzaiuoli from Napoli and two stranieri (foreigners). The stranieri: Pasquale Makishima, Japan; and me--Jonathan Goldsmith, USA.

After the interview with Professor Masi at Molino Caputo, we went to Pizzeria Salvo in Portici, just outside of Naples. Salvatore Salvo, along with Salvatore Di Mattteo, Attilio Bachetti, Gino Sorbillo, Maria Cacialli, Raimondo La Mura and Pasquale Makishima, would also be interviewed. I have great respect for Salvatore and the pizza at Pizzeria Salvo. Its unique quality reminds me of the masterpieces Franco Pepe creates in Caiazzo. It is interesting to note that both he and Franco Pepe have wood burning ovens built by the same artisan, Stefano Ferrara.

I now had four days to myself before the event. By late evening, I was in Rodi. Sparta and Giovanni knew I was coming; the rest of the family did not. I have a habit of making surprise visits. My only agenda was to visit with the Albanos, enjoy the sunrise and sunset, early morning birds, some cacciocavallo cheese and a goccio or two of red wine.

After an early morning drive through Taurasi, Irpinia and Solopaca, I met up with Domenico and Cono in Caiazzo. We visited Franco Pepe at his new pizzeria, still under construction. There is always time for café and conversation. Cono held court, far from the Cilento. It was great! He and Franco discussed bread making as it was done years past and in previous generations.

I could see that Cono was doing OK, accordion in hand and that this trip was already worthwhile. At Le Campestre, everyone shared an afternoon of music, dance, food and wine. I documented this historic dialogue. Cheese, wine, grain, fruits, goats, sheep, memories past, new friendships, laughter, what more can you ask? (More videos from this trip).

Late Monday, Naples. For the event Wednesday, not only did I have to demonstrate my method of making dough, I had to make a Margherita pizza with it and present it alongside the masters from Naples and Pasquale Makishima of Japan. Though nervous, I was excited. With fresh whites and sneakers I arrived early a.m. Tuesday at pizzeria Di Matteo on Via Tribunale. Where better to make my dough? I planned to make a double rise, put it in the fridge, then bring it to temperatura ambiente (room temperature) for the following day. When I returned to Di Matteo that afternoon to form the pagnotti (dough balls), I was not certain I had judged accurately the existing temperature and humidity. Catching the dough on the rise is important. If it begins to descend, you have a problem. Though one of the veteran pizzaiuoli assured me that all was ok, I had my doubts. At Molino Caputo that evening I asked for a bag of flour.

We were on our way to Vico Equenze for a gala fundraiser on the beach. All the chefs were there, each presenting a special dish. With Vesuvio in the background, it was quite a night. Along with the flour, I had Domenico pick up a few grams of yeast from Di Matteo. I returned to Donna Regina soon after midnight and immediately began to measure out the flour on the tiniest of scales and mix the dough by hand . Though exhausted by the time I went to sleep, I now felt ready for the next day.

After introductions and academic presentations by Sig. La Maura (il padrone, Pizza A Metro, Vico Equenze), Gennaro Esposito, Antimo Caputo and Professors Paolo Masi and Luca Scalfi, we went to work. Esteemed members of the pizza community, assorted friends and an array of journalists were there. Along with the classic “Pizza Margherita”, “Pizza a Metro” and “Pizza Fritta” were presented. I was third in line, preceded by Attilio Bachetti and Salvatore Di Matteo; some act to follow. Gennaro was very kind, he checked in every once in a while to see if I was ok. Fortunately, all went well. My pizza looked good and I made a coherent presentation.

I was proud to work with the dough I had made by hand and that my passion for this craft was recognized. I was honored to participate and am thankful to Antimo Caputo for his confidence in me. Antimo summed up both the spirit and activity of the event with the following words which I quote at length in his Italian:

“Per la festa a Vico credo che la cosa più bella sia lo spirito conviviale e di festa che governa su tutto, e vedere lavorare tantissimi chef emergenti e stellati tutti insieme sia fantastico. Per la giornata della pizza credo insieme a Gennaro abbiamo iniziato a misurare centimetro per centimetro la tradizione camapana della pizza sia a metro che napoletana, importante è la necessità per noi tradizionalisti di misurarci con la scienza che ci inizia a spiegare del perché noi usiamo delle tecniche e non solo perché lo raccontano i nonni…

Questo credo che sia il vero passaggio importante, il contributo internazionale è stato fantastico perché vedere amici professionisti come te o il giapponese è la dimostrazione che la nostra tradizione ha trovato dei testimoni anche fuori e che se vi accompagnamo in questo percorso, insieme a voi e la scienza, che speriamo renda attuale e futuribile la nostra tradizione culinaria, faremo tanta strada insieme…”

For those who are non-Italian speaking, Antimo’s words express what transpired at the Festa: camaraderie, conviviality, and professional attention to the science, tradition, and techniques of Neapolitan pizza were initiated and demonstrated at the highest levels, while space was made for international practitioners to both embrace traditions and be embraced by them, and to chart future directions together. (Photos from Festa Vico 2012)

I have no doubt that all I have learned and experienced during my studies, observations, trials and errors, relationships with other pizza makers, and years thus far at Spacca Napoli came together in this event. To me, that’s the beauty of how the past and present come together every time in pizza.



Che bella la prima vera in Italia.  I began this letter sitting on the terrace of Le Campestre, one of the most beautiful and tranquil locations I have experienced in Italy. Le Campestre, an agriturismo , is just outside of Castel di Sasso, an ancient borgo, in the region of Caserta. It is owned and operated by the Lombardi family.  There are four generations to this family, all in gamba (on their leg); the youngest, 18 months, the oldest, 88 years.  I have written of Le Campestre in the past and will probably do so in the future. I am already thinking of when I can return. Le-Campestre



NAPLES, ROUND ONE I had begun this trip in Naples where I planned to spend time in the city and at some of my favorite pizzerias before and after heading to Caiazzo.  Not only was I able to spend time with Adolfo Marletta of La Spaghettata and Antonio Starita in Materdei, two of the greatest pizza makers in Naples, I went south to Palinuro in the Cilento with my friend Domenico Mazzini of the B&B Donna Regina.


Upon arriving I had the good fortune to dine at the La Stanza Del Gusto with Mario Raffone, Domenico’s uncle and one of the last master lithographers in Naples. The Stanza Del Gusto ( is quite interesting.  Located by the Piazza Bellini, its owner Mario Avallone has made it his life’s work to honor and showcase “slow food.”  It truly stands by itself.  It was a wonderful way to begin, sitting down with the two Marios and soaking up their thoughts on honey, wine, cheese, tomatoes, vinegar, prosciutto, mortadella, oils and more. Starting this way set the tone for the dialogue that transpired each and every day.  Every artisan, whatever their product, has their own method and tradition.  And while each has their own take on what is right, what they have in common is their love for what they do, and passing their knowledge from one generation to the next.

An evening of pizza with Domenico at Di Napoli in Fuorigrotta was the prelude for Caiazzo and my extended visit with the Pepe brothers.  Situated away from the centro storico (historic center) of Naples, Pizzeria di Napoli is not as well traveled by tourists as Da Michele, Di Matteo,  Trianon, and other well-known local destinations.  But since 1953, this family-run pizzeria has had a serious following. If you are a pizza lover appreciative of its finer attributes, this pizzeria is not to be missed. Light and airy, a touch of resistance with the first bite, and top ingredients: I was impressed.

And so well primed, I was on my way toward Caiazzo.  Caiazzo is a good forty minutes drive from Napoli.  A small town of 5000, it is quite beautiful.  Its history is long.  Once in the hands of the Romans (306 B.C.), the Lombards, Arogonese, and the Kingdom of Naples have all been there.  Besides pizza, there is wine, olive oil, and mozzarella.  Over the course of my stay in Caiazzo, I learned about the local indigenous grapes, Casavecchia and Pallagrello,  and sampled the local olive oil.


Le Campestre is near Caiazzo and there I again enjoyed the ancient conciata romana cheese and prosciutto nero that is lovingly produced by Liliana and her family.  An afternoon walk with Liliana to look for wild asparagus, flowers, herbs and other greens to eat was a special treat.  I was treated like family and felt truly at home.  With open hearts, I was welcome in the kitchen. Recipes were shared.


The Mastroberardino Estate also treated me with kindness.  We have many of their wines on our list.  Through Dario Panino whom I had met in Chicago and who is a director with the Estate, I was picked up, given a tour of their operation, had a wine tasting of  the newest vintages, and visited with Dottore Antonio Mastroberardino  who is of the 9th generation. A wonderful lunch followed at their newly established Radici Resort. ( Along with Casavechia and Palagrello from Terre del Principe, ( we will be introducing Villa Dei Misteri from Mastroberardino which is made from a grape discovered and cultivated at Pompei. How ancient is that!



The core of what brought me to this region of Casserta was to work with Franco Pepe and his two brothers, Nino and Massimiliano, at their family’s Antica Osteria Pizzeria Pepe.  Franco and his brothers are part of the third generation of this greatly respected pizzeria. In 2011 Franco was among two other grande pizzaiuolo’s, Gino Sorbillo ( and Enzo Coccia  my former teacher, of Pizzeria La Notizia in Vomero ( who were asked to demonstrate their work to a group of internationally renowned chefs, food critics and personalities in Rome.

I met Franco in June 2010 when Ginny and I were on route to Le Campestre for a brief visit.  I wanted to show Ginny these two beautiful trees in nearby Caiazzo’s small piazza and by chance had just read about the pizzeria in The Food and Wine Lover’s Guide to Naples and Campania by Carla Capalbo while we were on our way to Caiazzo.  I was really excited by this discovery and decided I could not leave this town without having one of their pizzas or at least meeting the brothers. Our timing did not allow for eating, but we did get to meet Franco. After leaving Caiazzo Franco and I continued to correspond. A year later I was able to return to spend a week in residence with him.

Franco makes the impasto (pizza dough) by hand. I had the opportunity to be witness to this tradition in motion. Each day is unique and requires serious thought as to the precise mix of flour, water, salt and lievito madre (mother yeast) that will be used.  I trust there are very few pizzerias in Italy and around the world that make the dough in the manner Franco does.  Though he is a member of the APN, he refers to his pizza as “pizza del nonno” (of the grandfather) as opposed to “Neapolitan”.


Though there are so many facets to making a good pizza, the dough, to my mind the dough remains its uncompromising foundation.  My first two weeks of training with Enzo Coccia in 2004 required making dough by hand--no easy feat. Being with the fratelli Pepe (the Pepe brothers) was a chance to deepen my understanding.  It is amazing to think of the particular history that is the essence of this one small pizzeria in the tiny town of Caiazzo.  The love and reverence for their father and grandfather, who are of the first and second generations of Antica Osteria Pizzeria Pepe, cannot be described; it can only be felt.

To be part of their rhythm, to have dialogue and share ideas was wonderful.  Pepe and his two brothers warmly welcomed me into their pizzeria. I believe my passion for La Pizza helped foster this.  Franco and I are similar, in that we share an excitement, a quest even, to do our best to make something wonderful that nourishes both body and soul and to share it with others. Pizza is primal for us, like mother’s milk.


I watched and listened as Pepe made his dough by hand every morning.  We talked of the various flours, the gluten, sugars (simple and complex) and amino acids.  We talked of elasticity, dough memory, digestibility, fermentation, oils, tomatoes, cheese, salumi, everything!   We even went to presentations on flour (Petra) and visited Molino Caputo.  Afternoons were spent visiting other local artisans, having lunch with his family, and returning to the pizzeria for the evening’s work.  By the end of my stay, I felt I was no longer a passive participant; I was the part of their celebration of La Pizza, a member of the family, a fourth brother if you will.  It was with great sadness that I made my way back to Naples.





And so returning, with videos in hand, I visited some of the locations where the previous year I had collaborated with Sky Dylan Robbins ( as she made her documentary, Un’ Americana in Italia which is about the spirituality of food. It was fun and greatly satisfying to share the finished film with those who are in it.  You can see individual episodes of Sky’s documentary on the videos page of our website.

I have been running around this city since 2003, and my questions seem to have no end.  So even on this trip, I took more videos, and spent more time talking philosophy, being allowed access to kitchens and being invited to share in the staff meal.  Adolfo Marletta of La Spagetatta in Vomero was more than generous with his time.  Besides Franco Pepe, Adolfo and Antonio Starita were the two pizza makers I most wanted to spend time with; to watch hands, discuss flour and their methods of making dough.  Throughout my journey, there was reference to the changing nature of flour over a long time.  Today’s production often has more gluten, is stronger and more elastic.  Because of these changes the methods of extending dough by hand that Adolfo’s father did in the past, Adolofo and other pizzaiuoli must adapt in the present.



The only wish left on my plate in Naples was to spend a day with Antonio Starita in Martedei.  As with Pepe, the opportunity to be with Antonio is an honor.  He is considered one of the greatest pizza makers in Naples and has always been generous with his knowledge and time.  We began the day making the impasto together.  Though our methods are similar, I always learn from him.   As the lunch hour began, I moved over to the pizza bank and focused on the hand movements extending the dough and topping the pizzas.  It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and there was great excitement on the street and in the pizzeria.  Easter Sunday was the following day.  Everyone was happy, the children were jumping up and down.  It was quite nice to hear one woman, child in hand, telling Antonio that as a young child she would often come to Starita with her nonna (grandmother).  The memories continue to be made.


To ease my transition back home, I ventured south to Palinuro and the Cilento with Domenico.  Making our way past Gragnano, the Amalfi Coast and the magical Greek ruins of Paestum. I was anxious to return to this land of wonder, believed to be where the sirens called out to Ulysses.


I was in for a treat: natural beauty, good food and wine, visiting the newly opened and quite interesting Club Farine Med and once again venturing into the Cilento National Park. We woke up to Easter Sunday and had a wonderful afternoon meal overlooking the sea.  It was fun to sample the various casatiellos, each one different in its own way.  The evening was spent at the Club Farine Med. Using local biologico product, pizzas are closely tied to the areas from which the ingredients came.  How can one go wrong when using carciofini di pertosa (baby white articholes) or alici di menaica (fresh anchovies). Franco Fucciolo makes the pizza. Domenico’s’s cousin Nicholas Raffone is the owner. Only open since February, the dough is quite amazing.  Franco and I had met the previous year and of course, had bonded over pizza.   At most pizzerias, I am slow to jump in.  This time was different, I could not resist. Remembering a pie introduced to me by Roberto Caporuscio of Keste in New York, I made one with four mini calzones.  At four points of the pie, the cornicione is folded toward the middle with something stuffed inside.  The middle is left open with enough room to create another topping.  Very playful.


The day after Easter in Italy is a favorite of mine.  Pasquetta, “little easter,” is a day of celebration.  We drove into the Cilento, making our way to “Cono,” ( Dacono is a very special agriturismo.  Situated near the medieval town Larito, it has a particular spirit and mystique. Goats abound and the setting is spectacular.


We feasted with many other families.  There was traditional dance and song, the wine vero and sincero.  What a way to end the trip.  Well almost.   I could not leave Italy without returning once more to the fratelli Pepe in Caiazzo.  I showed up in my whites, ready for work.  It was a pleasant surprise and truly appreciated.  I was happy to see them and they me.  Late into the night, we worked.  With only a few hours before I needed to begin my journey home, we celebrated with a sparkling Greco, focaccia, and salumi.

I know this letter is long.  I apologize, but so much happens for me when I make these travels.  Food, wine and family bring us all together. Whether it is Turkey, Tunisia, the Gargano or the Cilento, I continue to experience the great willingness people have to share with those who express an interest to learn or just to appreciate.



I guess you could say I have fallen in love all over again, with all things pizza.  And maybe with Franco Pepe.  Don’t tell Roberto.  My wife however, does know.

A presto,