Tis Returns to Italy! Day 81: Book Launch Party at Franco Pepe’s
On Day 81, I headed deep into the Campania region to one of the best pizzerias in the world for a book launch party.
This morning I headed over to my new friend Luciano’s apartment. I met him at 10:15 to head to Franco Pepe’s pizzeria in Caiazzo, a small town about an hour from Napoli. Franco Pepe has recently been voted two years in a row as the best pizzaiolo in the world. Today was the book launch party for his new book and I was going as Luciano’s guest.
Traveling to Caiazzo
As we drove through rolling hills on the way to Caiazzo, Luciano talked of how the tiny town had thrived in the wake of the pizzeria’s success. Franco was born in Caiazzo and wanted to locate his restaurant there. As it became increasingly popular, the town added more shops, restaurants, and caffès. While Caiazzo is still small, Luciano explained that it was much livelier than it used to be.
When we arrived, it was time for the next hit of espresso. I have grown to love this ritual. Instead of chugging a 20-ounce coffee at Starbucks every morning, the Italians spread their hits out through the day. They always pair the espresso with water to offset the caffeine intake. Balance is important to Italians. It is a beautiful thing.
Local Cheeses and Lovely Views
The next stop was the restaurant! We headed through the small town and turned down a narrow street. At the end of the street, we arrived at the restaurant, Pepe in Grani. After we donned our masks and cleared vaccination and temperature checks, we joined the gathering inside.
We were greeted by tables of appetizers filled with local cheeses and salamis. Fortunately for me, Luciano knew quite a bit about all of them. One cheese, Conciato Romana, that was particularly strong was made nearby by a single family, who conveniently was there. When I was told how much the cheese sells for I almost choked.
Luciano took me on a tour of the upstairs dining rooms and suites where you can stay if you choose. I think they may be a touch out of budget but I did enjoy the views of the countryside. When looking at all the names of the people who had signed the wall in the suite, I located the name of Dries Martens, a player on the local Napoli football team and also a regular on the Belgium national team, both clubs I follow. Maybe one day I can afford the Pepe Suite Experience.
The Book Presentation
Next was the presentation for Pepe’s new book, La Mia Pizza Autentica (My Authentic Pizza). As the speakers talked, I was fairly impressed with my ability to comprehend most of what they were saying. The setting was beautiful, with the countryside stretching out behind the presenters.
Afterward, we went to find seats at the tables set up for the pizza feast that was to be lunch. I was very excited to be sitting between Luciano and Daniela Marfisa, a cheese blogger and expert. She and Luciano had both eaten with Pepe before and had some clear favorites. Unfortunately, one of Pepe’s signature creations was not one of Luciano’s favorites, a review that he had shared with Pepe before and had been asked to leave. All in good fun though as he and Pepe remain friends.
The Pizza Tasting Lineup
The pizzas we tasted included (photos of all below):
ACCIÙGRANA – fried pizza with cream of Grana Padano DOP 12 mesi, acciughe di Cetara, parsley and citrus zest
ROCCO – fried cone with cream of Grana Padano PDO 12 mesi, Pezzentella sausage from Casertana breed pigs, piennolo tomato, datterino tomato, Pecorino Romano DOP chips, basilico
MARGHERITA SBAGLIATA – PDO buffalo mozzarella from Campania, Riccio tomato passata after cooking, basil reduction and extra virgin olive oil
ZUCCA CONCIATA – baked pumpkin, pumpkin fondue, caramelized onion, refried beans and Conciato Romano
MEMENTO – fior di latte, white chickpeas from the Caiatine Hills, Lonzardo pork from the Casertana breed, curly endive, extra virgin olive oil
CRISOMMOLA – fried pizza with buffalo ricotta, apricot jam from Vesuvius, toasted hazelnuts, powdered black olives from Caiazzo, fresh mint
All in all, it was an absolutely lovely day including amazing food, new friends, and a wonderful new travel experience.