Rome: Anyone who’s set foot in Italy knows there are unwritten rules that one must abide by – and the most important of all revolve around food. Cappuccino after 11 a.m.? Only for tourists. Spaghetti bolognese? A horrifying thought. Pineapple on your pizza? Heresy – at least, it was until now.
But 2024 might just be the year that pineapple pizza cracks Italy, thanks to Gino Sorbillo, the renowned Naples pizzaiolo (pizza maestro) who has added the dreaded “ananas” to his menu in Via dei Tribunali, the best known pizza street in the world capital of pizza.
Sorbillo’s creation, called “Margherita con Ananas” costs 7 euros ($7.70). But this isn’t your regular Hawaiian: it is a pizza bianca, denuded of its tomato layer, sprinkled with no fewer than three types of cheese, with the pineapple cooked twice for a caramelized feel.
Sorbillo, a third-generation pizzaiolo, told CNN that he created it to “combat food prejudice.”
“Sadly people follow the crowd and condition themselves according to other people’s views, or what they hear,” he said.
“I’ve noticed in the last few years that lots of people were condemning ingredients or ways of preparing food purely because in the past most people didn’t know them, so I wanted to put these disputed ingredients – that are treated like they’re poison – onto a Neapolitan pizza, making them tasty.”
Doing it in his headquarters in the historic center of Naples with its 3,000 years of history – Sorbillo has 21 outlets around the world including in Miami, Tokyo and Ibiza – was also making an important point, he said.
The pineapple is prebaked in the oven and then cooled. Then he adds smoked provola (a local cow milk cheese from Campania), extra virgin olive oil, and fresh basil, before popping the pizza in his woodfired oven.
As it comes out of the oven, he scatters “micro shavings” of two types of smoked cacioricotta cheese around the crust: one from Sardinian goats, and another from buffalos in the nearby Cilento area.
“It makes it really tasty,” he said.
Tasty or not, pineapple on pizza is anathema to most Italians, and his pizza – which he launched on social media this week – hasn’t gone down well with many. It has, Sorbillo said, started “uproar” with insults on social media, and his pizza even being discussed on national TV.
But he says that those who’ve been curious enough to try it have been favorable.
“Before I launched it on social media, I put it on the menu without saying anything for a couple of weeks, and lots of people ordered it, even Neapolitans,” he said.
“But Italy is split in half about it. And not just Italy. There’s a load of arguments that have opened up about it. I think people in general are not curious. They are mistrustful of anything different.”
Barbara Politi, a food journalist who rushed straight to Naples to try it, was positive.
“It’s good, fresh, I’m in favor of it,” she said. “Did you know that pineapple has been part of Europe’s food culture since Christopher Columbus tasted it in Guadeloupe in 1493 and brought it back?
“When Sorbillo launched it, I was curious and looked into how long pineapple had been used in Europe, and I found that it has been part of European [food] culture for a long time. So in reality we’re talking about a question of mentality and of taste habits.
“I liked it, it’s a bit like sushi – at the start you might not love it but then it becomes a fixation.”
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For Sorbillo, pineapple on pizza is no different to the more adventurous toppings pizzaioli have been working with in recent years.
“In the last few years people have been using ingredients that five, six years ago were never used. Now we use speck from Alto Adige, mortadella which wasn’t used 10 years ago, chopped pistachios, powdered olives, mozzarella foam, even jams. Why shouldn’t we rediscover pineapple? Pizza has been taking on a new life for the past five or six years.”
He said he thought his pizzaiolo ancestors “would be perplexed” by his pineapple offering, but added, “Things should be tasted first, and then you express your view. In the past, not even ham or arugula went on pizzas, now they’re normal.”
However, one thing he draws the line at is starting with a tomato base.
“That’s another fruit – with two fruits, which both have acidity it wouldn’t be a good product,” he said. “Instead, I put three smoked cheeses on, and it changes the pizza, becomes a different taste.”
He said that the Hawaiian’s history, using tomato, meant that “people condemn it without trying to work on it, as I did.”
“Obviously there are polemics from people who say you shouldn’t use it. But why are you offended? Nobody is forcing you to buy it.
“Pairings are important in food. If you pair ingredients well, the result is good. People who are gastronomically curious are eating it, which means we did well.”
In fact, Sorbillo has already used the criticism to create another controversial pizza.
“When the pineapple pizza came out, someone wrote, ‘Now see if you can do a ketchup one, so I did it,” he said. “And another row started.”
It was no ordinary ketchup, though; instead, he used homemade sauce from red and yellow Italian datterino tomatoes, on a white base with smoked provola. He then filmed himself eating it triumphantly, surrounded by bottles of homemade ketchup, pronouncing it “good.”
“All you need to change is one ingredient, or one preparatory step, and you create a whole new thing,” he said.
“I’m sure that soon pineapple pizza will appear on the menus of other pizzerias in Naples – and not only in Naples.”