Salute the Queen and Eat the Flag!

From the Brand Historian’s Timeline: 1889

June 11th, 1889 was an important day in the history of pizza, for this was the day Raffaele Esposito paid tribute to his Queen at Pizzeria Brandi by naming his latest creation pizza Margherita. The woman in question was Margherita of Savoy, the tall stately blonde who had married her dull cousin Umberto to become Queen of the recently unified kingdom of Italy. 

Esposito’s tribute was no fawning flattery but a piece of calculated nation-branding which used the popular street food to emphasise the identity of the new kingdom. The new pizza’s colour palette of tomato, mozzarella and basil (the sun on a plate) reflected the new tricolour flag, created following the success of the great Risorgimento, the re-unification which had been achieved following the fall of the Napoleon. 

It had been down to the combination of a clever politician’s strategic choice of the right allies and a chancer-of-a-general’s sword that had succeeded in unifying, at least in theory, the patchwork of states and entities which Metternich had famously labelled a geographical expression. In the aftermath of successive victories over the Austrians and French, the new kingdom started to industrialise, especially in the North and there was considerable investment in railways and other modernising infrastructure. It was against this dynamic background that a number of the iconic brands of Italian cuisine were created which built variously on nona’s cooking, the exploitation of new technologies like canning (apertization) or by just spotting the worldwide export opportunity for tasty food from the poor south.

Francesco Cirio from Piedmont, Giovani Buitoni from Tuscany and Pietro Barilla from Emilia Romagna spent the 1870s laying the foundations of world-famous tomato sauce and pasta franchises. In 1882, Egidio Galbaniestablished the creamery in Como where eventually Bel Paese cheese would be produced. In Queen Margherita’s hometown of Turin, Luigi Lavazza created in 1895 a successful coffee business and built his reputation based on coffee blending skills which at the time was quite an innovation.

But whilst the decades of the nineteenth century were great years of Italian brand building, they were notoriously unstable politically, veering between radical socialism, liberalism and conservative reaction. By the time Umberto and Marguerite paid their return trip to Naples in 1889 (they had been Crown Prince and Princess of Naples before ascending the throne) the royal couple were equally divided. Umberto kept many mistresses and continued a high-profile affair with Eugenia, a Visconti Duchess who was one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. Umberto’s endorsement of the regime’s harsh repression of food rioters in Milan made him a target for the anarchists. Having survived one attempt, he would not be so lucky in 1900 when the anarchists finally got him at Monza.

His wife lived on until 1926 enjoying la belle epoque while it lasted, but the fame of the pizze that bore her name ensured she would now adorn a million menus. Just six years after the couple’s visit to Naples, where the Queen may well have eaten her first Margherita, the first pizzeria in the United States opened at 53 Spring St. The triumphant march of Eataly had now begun. 

Music to enjoy your pizze with (extra prosciutto, per favore)

Messa da Requiem Guiseppe Verdi

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