There is nothing more characteristically Italian than pizza, and yet Italy is suffering from a dramatic drop in pizza makers, with young Italians less and less interested in the trade. Now it is estimated that more than 2 out of every 5 pizza makers are foreigners, and there are some 6,000 vacant posts for pizza makers in the country’s restaurants.
According to data from Italy’s Accademia Pizzaioli—or Academy of Pizza Makers—there are some 100,000 permanent workers in the pizza field, plus another 50,000 weekend workers.
Of these, 65,000 are Italian, with the remaining 35,000 made up principally of Egyptians (20,000) and Moroccans (over 10,000).
In response, Italy has chosen Neapolitan pizza as its sole candidate for protection under UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list for the 2015-2016 cycle.
The Italian National Commission for UNESCO decided to recognize “the art of Neapolitan pizza makers” in tribute to their culinary skills and their place in the world’s gastronomic traditions.
The list “is composed of intangible heritage elements that concerned communities and states parties consider require urgent measures to keep them alive,” according to the UNESCO website.
Naples is determined to maintain its reputation as the spiritual home of one of the world’s favorite foods.
Neapolitan pizza is distinguished by its thicker dough cooked in wood-burning ovens, by the crunchy but tender consistency of its crust, and by its lightly acidic tomato taste, along with the addition of oregano, garlic, basil and fresh mozzarella.
The dearth of Italian pizza makers is symptomatic of a broader cultural trend, with Italians losing interest in traditional trades, especially manual jobs, which are being filled more and more by foreigners. Along with pizza makers, Italy is also suffering from a lack of carpenters, nurses, electricians and even tailors. Economists say that part of the problem is that Italian schools are not preparing students for this kind of work, but a deeper cause is cultural: these jobs have lost their prestige.
In Italy, pizza is big business, with 63,000 pizzerias bringing in some 10 billion euros in yearly revenues. Every day Italy churns out about 5 million pizzas for a total of one and a half billion a year according to Coldiretti, Italy’s largest agricultural association.
Still, the biggest pizza consumer in the world is now the United States, with an average of 13 pounds per person per year, almost twice that of the Italians who eat an average of a modest 7.6 pounds of pizza per capita.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome