Miss American Pie

In “Eatsa Pizza,” featured in School Nutrition’s January/February 2022 issue, author Kelsey Casselbury explores a number of trends that influence pizza’s dominating role in school meal programs—and in American food culture. Many of these factors play out in different regional favorites, defined by variations in crusts, toppings and preparation techniques. School cafeterias are a great place to introduce students to different pizza styles. Whether you want to create new buzz and excitement at this midpoint in the school year or to mitigate supply chain disruptions, try offering—accompanied by a marketing push—a pizza style less common in your part of the country. Here are some longstanding and newly popular suggestions:

New York: Boasting a thin, pliable crust and cut into wide wedges, this pizza is made for folding and on-the-go eating. Made with a high-gluten bread flour, the crust is thick and crisp only along its outer edge. Urban legend credits the minerals found in New York City tap water (piped from upstate reservoirs) with giving the crust a unique flavor and texture. The tomato sauce is heavily seasoned with oregano, basil and crushed red pepper.

Chicago: More like an uncovered savory pie than the flatbread of most traditional pizzas, this version is called deep-dish for a reason! The crust is a happy medium between thin and thick, but it’s pressed into round pans with a high edge to create almost a bowl-like structure that contains lots (and lots) of cheese, sauce and other ingredients. In addition to ordinary white flour, the dough may also contain cornmeal or semolina to give it a distinctive yellow hue. Requiring longer baking times to accommodate the deep well of ingredients, the cheese is often the bottom layer, next to the crust, to keep from burning. Break out the knife and fork for this one.

Detroit: This rectangular pizza has a spongy, thick crust that is chewy, similar to a focaccia bread dough. Tomato sauce and cheese (often mozzarella, ricotta or a processed Wisconsin “brick cheese”) are spread all the way to the edges, with the tomato sauce sometimes being the top layer, with the cheese on the bottom and other ingredients in the middle. The key, say some experts, is allowing the cheese to brown and caramelize on the edges.

St. Louis: A super-thin, almost cracker-like crust is one feature that makes this pizza distinctive. The crust is made without yeast and doesn’t fold easily without breaking. Thus, instead of pie-like wedges, St. Louis pizza is typically cut into 3- or 4-in. squares or rectangles. Missouri-based fans also expect it to be topped with Provel, a white processed cheese that is a combination of cheddar, Swiss and provolone, with a low melting point and gooey, almost buttery texture.

New Haven: Called “apizza” by locals, this thin-crust style is a variation on the Neapolitan. It has a longer, cold fermentation process than its quick-rise New York City cousin and was originally cooked in a coal-fired oven, but now is prepped in a super-hot, open-flame brick oven until the crust gets a signature charring. Cheese is used sparingly, with most traditionalists focused on the tangy tomato sauce as the sole topping. In fact, if you want mozzarella, you must specifically request it as a topping!

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