Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Pizza Pilgrimage III - Volturno


Currently, I'm a fan of Neopolitan style pizza. I'm fascinated with it mainly because I love its bubbly charred crust. When done right the crust is light and airy, with a delightfully soft and tender chew, but it still has crispness due to the super hot wood fired oven in which it's cooked. Toppings are usually kept to a minimum and applied with a light hand because the crust is the star (though that's not always the case of course).

It's important that you call it Neopolitan style. Because to be a true Neopolitan pizza, the restaurant must be VPN certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana [link] which sets strict guidelines on ovens, ingredients, and techniques used for those claiming to serve true Neopolitan pies. Interestingly, there are surprisingly few VPN certified pizzerias in America, only about 75, and only two in NY State, both in NY City.

There's controversy surrounding the VPN certification because it doesn't necessarily ensure one makes great pizza, and it's viewed as a marketing gimmick by some because there are many pizzerias that are not certified but are making fantastic Neopolitan style pizza. Serious Eats has a good piece on the subject if you're interested in reading more about it.

Volturno is not VPN certified, but they are making top notch Neopolitan style pizza.

Volturno is in Worcester MA, about a 2-hour drive from my home in Albany. My wife wanted to do some shopping at the Lee outlets, in Lee MA, so we decided to make a day of it and after some retail therapy, do the extra driving over to Worcester and have dinner at Volturno.

Volturno is unique in that it has two wood-fired ovens. The restaurant is quite large. These guys are cranking out a lot of pizzas. They do a lot more than pizza, also specializing in handmade pasta, and other Italian-inspired dishes with a farm-to-table philosophy. But when we were there, nearly every table had pizza on it. Obviously, that's the main draw for the legions of diners they serve every day. And after eating the pizza, I can see why.

Usually, I'd order a Margherita when trying a pizza joint for the first time, but I decided to break with tradition and heed the consensus of the internet and have the pistachio pie. Pistachio pesto, mozzarella, sausage, pecorino.

The sausage is an Italian sausage, and it's ground. I love ground sausage, and I wish more pizzerias would put it on their pizza's. You get a little bit of the mildly spiced sausage in each bite. The pistachio pesto is applied in a thin layer, and while you can't taste the pistachios, it does add a subtle background nuttiness. On this pie, they're generous with the cheese, and the whole thing comes together to make for some delightful eats.

My wife opted for the "Volturno". San Marzano, buffalo mozzarella, arugula, prosciutto. It was delicious. The tomato sauce is fresh and bright. There was just enough cheese, and the prosciutto adds a salty/sweet component, which balances out the bitter arugula.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the crust, because as I said, that's really what a great Neapolitan pizza is about, and Volturno's crust is very, very good.

Thier pizza is probably the second best I've had behind Pizzeria Bianco. Like Bianco, the crust is flavorful, and light and tender, but still toothsome, with some crispness, and perfectly speckled with charred bubbles. It's a joy to eat. To my surprise, my picky eight-year-old daughter even liked the crust, despite it being "burnt", and kept stealing bites of it off our plates (she ate a bowl of pasta with butter).

Ever since my trip to Phoenix last year having the pizza at Bianco, I've been pining for truly exceptional Neapolitan style pizza and Volturno is doing exactly that, just 2 hours from home.


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