While harder to imagine as winter settles in, nevertheless I have fond memories of my spring 2014 visit to Napoli. Wild flowers were blooming, grasses were brilliantly varied shades of green and asparagus were waiting to be picked. Once more I settled with ease at the Agriturismo Le Campestre (Castel di Sasso), as one returning to a home away from home.


With Domenico Mazzella, my usual traveling partner there, we hit the town of Tufo, 30 miles east of Naples, to meet with Ferrante di Somma di Circello of the Cantine di Marzo. The cantina dates back ten generations to the year 1647. As the plague devastated Naples, Ferrante’s ancestor, Scipione di Marzo, fled his hometown of San Paolo Bel Sito, located near the town of Nola, arriving in Tufo. He later built his winery here, which is one of the oldest in Italy. Scipione took with him some of the local white varietal vines, at the time called both Greco del Vesuvio and Greco di Somma.   Ferrante refers to commonly known genetic studies that link this grape to Asprino di Aversa, a wine we have begun label approval for having in house shortly.

Succeeding generations of the family made major land acquisitions in the area. These increased land holdings led to the discovery of sulfur and brimstone. In 1866, while riding his horse on his estate, Francesco di Marzo noticed shepherds on his property burning rocks to keep warm. While examining the rocks, he understood they were burning the brimstone they found on the land. With this discovery, the family began a large mining operation of the natural brimstone, known as the gold of tufo. Rich in nutrients, it was valuable to agriculture as a soil- enhancing agent.

Greco di Tufo, with its minerality, complexity and aromatics, ages well and has less fruit than many of the other local white wines. Its unique characteristics derive from the sulfur and tufo rich soils. Millions of years ago a shallow tropical sea covered the area. Deposits of shells and organic matter created diversified geologic strata, and the resulting abundance of brimstone, sulfur and chalk. The roots of the planted vines act as a sponge with the brimstone and sulfur, contributing to the aromatic signatures of the grape. The terroir of the region helps distinguish this Greco di Tufo from Greco wines of surrounding areas.

Ferrante, along with his father and sister, are engaged in an ambitious program to bring their Greco di Tufo production to a level that reflects their four hundred years of tradition. Having studied wine making in Burgundy, Ferrante is adept with all technical aspects of their operation. He has a great understanding of the traditional French method of Dom Perignon and is very proud of the sparkling Greco he produces. In fact, in the 1800’s, with the initial onset of the devastating plant disease phylloxera in France, the French had to look to the Italians for the production of a sparkler similar to their beloved Champagne for importation.

Although I could have listened to Ferrante for many more hours, we had additional wine makers to visit. Bruno DeConciliis, someone very dear to our hearts, lives near Paestum in the Cilento. Last year we introduced two of his wines, a white spumante and a red that Bruno personally made for our pizzeria. Bringing his wines to Spacca is a wonderful collaboration, and an important part of our mission to celebrate art, innovation, spirituality and friendship.

I asked Bruno how best to describe our “Cuore D’Oro” (Heart of Gold) wines, and along with technical notes he wrote,

“If you have had some feelings with these wines, I expect you to emphasize this in any way you want. The project Cuoredoro is based on our relationship. Without this, it is an empty amphora; filled with liquid that is not the wine you and me know. The wine is a glue among mad pizzaioli and farmers, among artists, simple people, families, workers, a bridge between different places and cultures!”

I treasure these words. They reflect my experience over the years with many of the artisans we work with, be it producers of wine, cheese, tomatoes, fruit, salumi, olive oil, vinegar, pasta, and pizze. There is a story behind each product that we share with those coming to the pizzeria. It is as close as we can get to the artisans themselves with us at the table.

Other wineries we visited over the course of the year included Cantina Mazzella in Ischia for Biancolella , Masseria Campito in Gricignano di Aversa for the elusive Asprinio di Aversa, and Tenuta San Francesco in Tramonti along the Amalfi Coast.   San Francesco is nestled into the Lattari hills beyond the coast. The Tramonti area, with its many villages, and their vineyards and churches, is an unexpected treasure. It is a place where time seems to have come to a stop. Along with Aglianico, Piedirosso Falanghina, and Biancolella, Tenuta San Francesco produces both white and red blends, , incorporating rare varietals such as Pepella, Ginestra, and Tintore.   We will present these wines after their arrival in early 2015. As we broaden and deepen our inclusion of Campanian wines, we will have more zones and varietals represented. I am indebted to Domenico Mazzella, and could not have done this work without him.

The coastal village of Furore was our base of operation while exploring its local wine. It is known for its murals and as “the village that does not exist”. There is no piazza or center square. We stayed at the Hotel Bacco with its wonderful restaurant and its commanding view of the sea. The owners, Erminia Cuomo and her husband Raffaele, and their children Letizia and Domenico, treated us as family. They are Domenico’s longtime friends and have been in residence there since 1930. The hotel is an ancient inn on the road leading from Amalfi to Agerola. It offers simple pleasures. With its commanding view of the sea from its perch cliff side, the light, sounds, peace, and serenity infuse one with a sense of joy and belonging. Eating there is a spiritual activity. Ingredients are carefully selected and linked to the territory and the season, such as cecchi, alici, and baccala cod. Here, as described on their website, “each bowl of pasta and platter of fish is a flavor packed celebration of the Mediterranean.”

Just down the coast past Vietri Sul Mare is the small fishing village of Cetara. One does not go there for its beaches, but for its Colatura; an amber colored anchovy extract. Similar to the Ancient Roman garum, it is rich and aromatic and is used to flavor foods of almost every kind, like salt might. It is considered a unique product of gastronomic excellence. We visited with Giulio Giordano at his shop Nettuno to learn firsthand the process of preparing the anchovies for salting, packing them in terzigno wood barrels, and the eventual extraction of the “liquid gold.” It is a tradition passed down generation by generation.

Pizza fritta (fried pizza) is a popular, centuries old choice among many in Naples that has crossed over to America in recent years. I trust that five years ago, few here knew of “the montanara” or of Forcella, a quartiere (neighborhood) in Naples. O Pagnottiello and D’e Figliole were two friggitorias that Domenico wanted me to try; they are the first two stops on the pizza tour he offers through his Discovers Naples organization. Both locations were loud with the hustle and bustle of the street, and locals waiting on the sidewalk for the quick and flavorful take-away it is meant to be. They sure are tasty.

There was a new pizzeria to visit. Hache is in the chic Chiaia area along the lungomare. Though some may say, as does the owner Fabio Amibile, that their “gourmet” pie is a step removed from a “vera pizza”, it is as soft, fragrant, and digestible (the holy trinity) as many I have sampled. It reminded me of the pizze put out by Franco Pepe. Both use the highest quality ingredients typical of Campania, and great attention is paid to the dough. The cornicione, the pie’s border, was light and airy. The dough also reminded me of the impasto of the Salvo brothers, Pellone and Di Napoli in Fuorigrotta   Fabio’s use of Piennolo tomatoes and capers on the marinara was delicious and eye-catching. Though many have been making use of these tomatoes and other varietals over the years, I had not paid as much attention to the tomato in its own right beyond the San Marzano. Long story short, our storage area at Spacca is now filled to the brim with tomatoes of all types; San Marzano, Piennolo red and yellow, Gragnano and Corbarino. Though these tomatoes are all from Campania and from small producers, their profiles vary with each microclimate, soil composition, and method of production.

Over the years I have worked with many well-respected pizzaiuoli in Naples, such as Antonio Starita, Enzo Coccia, Adolfo Marletta, others at Di Matteo and Da Michele, and Roberto Caporuscio in America. In more recent years, I have followed the work of Franco Pepe in Caiazzo. His method of making impasto by hand, as was done by his father and grandfather, is unique. The way he works the dough by hand, diving in with open fingers, allows more air to circulate in the dough, thus more lightness and gentleness to the dough. The open hand also allows an immediate tactile sense of the mix. It takes patience and time and utter devotion to make such quantities by hand each day—upwards of 600 pagnoti on a busy weekend night. Franco is considered one of the greatest pizza makers in the world.

I have also devoted much energy to understanding how pizza verace (classic Neapolitan pizza) differs from pizza rustica and other artisanal styles of pizza. This year, I returned to the core of my initial studies to focus on pizza verace, the classic method.   I visited all the pizzerias mentioned above again, along with Attilio Biachetti in Pignaseccha, Pizzeria Lombardi and the Salvo brothers at their respective locations; Francesco and Salvatore at Salvo, and Ciro at 50 Kalo. Although these pizzaiuoli may differ in how they make their impasto (dough), amount of yeast, water temperature, type of mixer, rise time, use of refrigeration or not, and gentleness of hands when extending the dough, they follow the standards set forth by the VPN. While I will continue to make dough by hand on occasion and experiment in other ways, on a daily basis I am using the methods I originally learned, coming full circle.


With that said, I have introduced a few new pizze at Spacca. They are terrific with a light sparkling Gragnano. My first is a white pie I saw on the menu at Pepe in Grani. It uses bufala mozzarella and is topped with the aforementioned tomatoes. The concept is to use one cheese alone to highlight the nuances of each tomato. The second pie, also white, is Enzo Coccia’s creation. It pairs four particular cheeses, bufala, fior di latte, scamorza, and affumicato, with four particular tomatoes in quadrants on the pie and is a touch more complicated to make. I predict it will be difficult to choose a favorite.


See you in 2015~buon anno!


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.



Thank you to everyone who came to Spacca Napoli while Franco Pepe was in residence.

Franco and Jonathan in the dough room

We had a great response to his wonderful stay at the pizzeria. His work with us, and presenting together at the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas is inspiring more ongoing local, national and international discussions around dough making, which I continue to participate in and am passionate about.

Of Franco’s wonderful dishes made while at Spacca, Mast’ Nicola was the first pie presented.  It is a pizza with ingredients typical of the 15th century, predating the use of tomato and mozzarella in Italy. Using sugna (back fat), black pepper, basil and conciato romano, an ancient sheep’s milk pecorino cheese from Le Campestre, Mast’ Nicola was a great beginning.


Second was a calzone with fresh escarole, black olives (from Franco’s home town of Caiazzo), and anchovies.


As most of Italy is closely bounded by water, this simple combination celebrates the harmony between land and sea.

“La Bandiera” was the third pie introduced. “La Bandiera” references the Italian flag: smoked mozzarella topped with basil (green); bufala mozzarella (white); crushed tomato with oregano and oil (red).  An homage choice by Franco, it is a pie that was made by his father.



Pizze fritte and a rich, velvety Zuppa Forte were also on the menu. The fried pizza was topped with a simple sugo and the conciato romano.  Zuppa Forte is a known specialty at Franco’s Antica Osteria Pizzeria Pepe. Tomato, trippa (tripe), guancialle, beef heart, veal, aglianico wine, bay leaves and a touch of pepperoncino make the soup.  Pulmone (beef lung) is part of the recipe but is difficult to procure in the U.S. or in Italy.

On to the Pizza Expo, where Franco was art and history in motion.  He used proofing boxes made of beech and a special vessel (una madia) to mix the flour, water, salt, and yeast. For three days we worked side by side.  Though I was more witness than assistant, I feel we were on equal footing in that my quest to always improve my pizza reflects a similar passion to Franco’s.  Since returning I have been arriving earlier than usual to Spacca to experiment with a longer double rise. I am introducing small percentages of other flours into the mix with my beloved Molino Caputo double zero blue, and am working to incorporate a lievito madre along with our fresh baker’s yeast.  (Does Practice Make Perfect? By John Arena)

Overall, Franco’s passionate presentation in Las Vegas at the Pizza Expo was a big success.  The audience was greatly moved by his family’s history, the story of three generations, and his commitment to protecting and maintaining a great tradition.  His understanding of history and technical expertise is impressive, and his commitment to local ingredients, fellow artisans, and farmers is admirable.



Jonathan with dough box

Together we marveled to think how our chance encounter nearly two years ago in Caiazzo led to my bringing Franco to America so he could share his way of being and thinking about pizza, craft and culture—all of which will help keep it from fading away.

In recent years there has been a shift with Molino Caputo (the makers of our flour) at the Pizza Expo.  There is now a younger generation of pizzaiuoli from Italy working alongside celebrated masters such as Antonio Starita and Adolfo Marletta.


There is a great sense of honor for the young Italians selected to come to Las Vegas by the Caputo family.  In the past eight to ten years Caputo has brought only the most revered pizza makers from Italy to represent their product at this show. The recent shift to bringing younger up and coming artisans reflects a passing of the torch in Naples from one generation to the next.


Hopefully, there will always be members of the older generation present, thus perpetuating the wonderful balance between past and future as evidenced by Franco Pepe. Forza l’impasto!