John Arena  is both a student and a teacher of pizza.

John Arena contacted me several years ago explaining he had developed the first course about pizza to be offered at a major university.

Albert Grande and John Arena at the Pizza Expo.

Albert Grande and John Arena at the Pizza Expo.

The class is entitled: The Culture of Pizza.   

Here is the course description:

Course Description: A survey course on the history, culture and developing trends in the creation and production of pizza. The course includes, lectures, readings, ingredient analysis, production demonstrations and hands-on work with regard to the art and science of pizza-making.

Week 1: History of Pizza

A discussion of the evolution of pizza and related flatbreads from the ancient Greeks to the kitchens of celebrity chefs. We will discuss how historical events and migration have shaped pizza, where we started, where we are now, and where we may be headed. Class will be divided into three teams for final project.

Week 2: Napoli

Napoli is the birthplace of pizza as we know it. Discussion and hands-on demonstration of pizza as it is prepared in Naples. We will examine the approved standards of the VPN Italy’s governing body of pizza.

Week 3: Pizza Comes to the New World

An examination of pizza as it was prepared in New York’s Little Italy in the early 1900’s and how and why it has changed over time. Demonstration and practice of proper hand-crafting techniques.

Week 4: Dough Production

It all starts here. Basics of crust formulation. We will examine selection of ingredients, proper mixing and fermentation, and variations that will change flavor profiles and texture.

Week 5: Basics of Sauce, Cheese and Spices

We will sample and compare ingredients and learn to prepare a base pizza sauce. This class will also examine regional preferences and variations of the basic ingredients.

Week 6: In the Thick of It

Chicago Style Deep Dish, Foccacia, Stuffed Pizza and Calzones. We will examine the origins and elements of these pizza variations including hands-on practice of basic techniques.

Week 7: Pizza in the 21st Century

An examination of multi-cultural influences and current trends in the pizza world including sample and discussion of pizzas with nontraditional toppings.

Week 8: Presentation of Final Projects

Each team will have 15 minutes to prepare the team’s Pizza Creation including a spoken explanation of the inspiration and rationale behind its development. Final written examination.

The mandatory text book used was: Everybody Loves Pizza: The Deep Dish on America’s Favorite Food

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I was honored to be able to interview John. He is not only a master pizzaiolo, but also a wonderful person.

In the following interview john discusses:

  • How he learned the pizza business
  • His philosophy of creating a pizza community
  • Why he pays his customers $25 gift certificates to visit other pizzerias
  • His take on the kinds of regional pizzerias in the United States
  • Why he takes his entire staff to visit Chris Bianco’s Pizzeria every year
  • He offers incredible insight on Chris Bianco
  • He gives great tips for the home pizza maker
  • What is the one pizza tool you should “throw away” if you are making pizza
  • How he created a College Class called The Culture of Pizza

This was a fascinating interview. You will discover tons of use information.

This interview is full of incredible pizza facts and insight, about John, his pizza philosophy, his relationship with his cousin, Sam, and more. 

You will be astounded with the amount of knowledge that John shares in this incredible interview. John Arena is a true Legend of Pizza.

You can listen and / or download this interview below: