Pizza Paulistana; Catupiry cheese
“You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”
-Yogi Berra, American baseball player (1925)
For weeks, I had been hearing Alex hype up São Paulo pizza – apparently, it’s some of the best in the world. Last night, we went to a local spot down the road and had their specialty – “pizza frita” – fried pizza (Alex’s mom tried to explain this to me once before, but I couldn’t fully grasp the concept until I saw the finished pizza at our table). Here’s how to basically make pizza frita:
Fill a large cast iron pan with oil – about an inch or so – and heat it up (wet your fingers and flick water into the oil; it’s hot enough when the water drops sizzle and spit). Roll your dough super thin – as thin as you can get it without tearing. Let it rest for 10 minutes, then quickly drop the dough base into the oil. It cooks in about 2-3 minutes, and will become light and crispy. Remove from the oil, transfer to a wire rack to drain and top with whatever you like (I think I read somewhere that São Paulo has over 8,000 types of pizza toppings; the menu at this particular restaurant was 10 pages long). Place on a wooden board and put into a scorching hot oven for just a few minutes to warm the toppings and melt cheese). Remove and enjoy!
São Paulo calls itself “The Pizza Capital of the World.” Here, there are over 6000 pizza establishments in the metropolitan area and over 1.4 million pizzas are consumed daily. It is said that the first Brazilian pizzas were baked in the Brás district of São Paulo in the early part of the 20th century. Until the 1950s, they were only found in the Italian communities. Since then, pizza became increasingly popular among the rest of the population. The most traditional pizzerias are still found in the Italian neighborhoods, such as Bexiga and Bela Vista. Typically, pizzas follow the Neapolitan variety, rather than the Roman one, being thicker and more doughy and oftentimes lacking tomato sauce.
Random trivia I learned: On July 10, 1985, São Paulo ended a state contest to find the Top Ten Pizza Recipes. Since then, Pizza Day is celebrated here every year on July 10. 🙂
[EDIT: I should add that pizza frita is not the traditional way Paulistas eat pizza. 95% of the pizzerias here serve a more recognizable thin-ish crust version that’s not greasy at all – it’s the toppings that make it exceptional.]
I was enjoying the experience at the Pizzaria so much that I forgot to write down all the different types we tried – but my favorite by far was the “frango e milho com Catupiry”, a shredded chicken and sweet corn pizza topped with a decadent Brazilian cream cheese called Catupiry. I have always been a huge fan of cream cheese, but this “requeijão” style blows Philadelphia’s block cheese out of the water.
Requeijão is a milk-derived product, produced in Portugal and Brazil. The Brazilian product is a white cream cheese with a mild taste and mild acidity. Its consistency can vary from solid to creamy – the kind used on pizzas is the creamy variety, sold in plastic bags that look like ready-made piping bags (how convenient!). To me, the cheese is visually reminiscent of those plastic food items seen at some Asian eateries in the US – it has this artificial-looking sheen to it, and it moves very strangely… turns out that the sheen is from the addition of rich, hot butter fat during the last step of the manufacturing process. Its most common variant is requeijão cremoso, very creamy in consistency; usually sold in glasses or plastic cups.
CatupiryTM is one of the most popular “requeijão” brands in Brazil. It was developed by the Italian immigrant Mario Silvestrini in the state of Minas Gerais in 1911. The name derives from the native Tupi-Guarani word meaning “excellent”. Because of its low level of acidity, Catupiry has become an ingredient in various dishes. The expression “com Catupiry” (with Catupiry) refers to foods where Catupiry is an ingredient or a filling . It is also eaten as a dessert combined with guava jam. In the United States, Catupiry can be found in Brazilian ethnic stores and restaurants in the States of Florida, California, New York and Massachusetts. I highly recommend that if you live in or near any of these states, you seek Catupiry out immediately – you’ll never touch the block cheese again!