Certified pizza? That’s right – it’s a real thing.

The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana’s American delegation, the VPN Americas, certifies Neapolitan pizzaiolis, or pizza makers, in the art of making traditional Neapolitan pizza. Founded in Naples, Italy, more than 300 years ago, this style of pizza is considered an Italian national heritage. Neapolitan pizza even has a DOC (denomination of control) status that is administered through the VPN. That’s similar to the AOC that you see on a bottle of French champagne, certifying that the wine’s origins are nowhere other than the Champagne region of France. But the DOC of a Neapolitan pizza signifies even more than the origins of the pizza’s tomatoes and mozzarella. It also dictates a particular way of preparing the pizza, procuring the ingredients, and then cooking the dish.

Neapolitan pizza must be cooked at high-heat (no less than 900 degrees Fahrenheit). The VPN requires that certified Neapolitan pizzas are made in stone, wood-fired dome ovens. The pizza dough needs to be made from Neapolitan yeast, a kind of compressed or brewer’s yeast, along with salt, water, and type “00” wheat flour. The dough has to be hand kneaded and formed, and after it’s all rolled out, it can’t be more than 3 millimeters thick. The dough is covered with a pizza sauce that must be made from San Marzano tomatoes, a variety that grows near Mount Vesuvius in Italy. In addition, the pizza can only be topped with mozzarella di bufala Campana, a mozzarella that comes from the Campania region of southern Italy and which is also DOC certified. In addition to the rules about what kind of oven, yeast, flour, tomatoes, and mozzarella can be used, Neapolitan pizza can only include fresh basil, fresh garlic, sea salt, true oregano, and extra virgin olive oil. Once it’s cooked, the pizza should not be more than 11 inches in diameter. The cooked crust needs to be 1-inch thick, with a thinner center.

Although certified Neapolitan pizzas may have a number of creative toppings, there are three official varieties: marinara, Margherita, and Margherita extra. Pizza marinara is made with tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and olive oil, with no cheese. Pizza Margherita is topped with tomatoes, slices of mozzarella, basil, and olive oil. Pizza Margherita extra is virtually the same as pizza Margherita, but with larger slices of mozzarella. In order to learn how to make the Neapolitan pizza, budding pizzaiolis can take a course from the VPN’s Accademia della Pizza Napoletana in Marina del Rey, California. Students learn the traditional methods of preparing Neapolitan pizza, and even have the opportunity to work as interns in a certified pizzeria.

By teaching the proper way to create Neapolitan pizzas, the VPN ensures that the Italian tradition continues in the Americas as it has in Naples for hundreds of years. It is then up to the pizzaiolis to ensure they continue to meet the association’s strict guidelines and respect the culinary art they have learned. If a restaurant wants to make and sell certified Neapolitan pizzas, it has to submit an application to the VPN and await intense scrutiny. This includes submitting photos of pizzas and testifying to the pizzaioli’s training, as well as detailing everything from the ingredients the restaurant uses to the type of oven and its origins. The Italian government felt Neapolitan pizza was worth certifying. Now just a few hundred restaurants in North America get to show their patrons why this pizza is so special—and Vero Amore is ranked among them.