What’s student life without pizza? During exam week or after a long day of tutorials, one craves an affordable, healthy and convenient meal. From there, it’s not much of a leap to Italy’s most popular comfort food. Unfortunately, most of the pizzerias in Maastricht are simply bad. Fake Italian staff, thick crusts, dry edges, way too much sauce, gross factory-made cheese – it’s a long, sad list.
Only since about five years ago does Maastricht have food establishments where Italians want to set foot inside. What distinguishes these businesses from the others is the essential ‘ingredient’ of a truly good pizza: intense heat from burning wood. Initially none too pleased with wood-fired ovens, the municipality of Maastricht capitulated five years ago and now there are three wood-oven pizzerias in town: Piano B, Boca Lupo and Bancale 61. We’re having dinner there.
The Italian population at UM is growing, so experts are easy to come by. I’m going out for pizza with Matteo Bonnetti and Marcello Negrini, both PhD students at the SBE and both from northern Italy. Matteo is from the Turin area and Marcello is from a small mountain village in Valtellina, a valley where each village has its own dialect, incomprehensible to outsiders. Limburg, eat your heart out.
Together with Mrs. Eichholtz we depart from the SBE, so our first stop is Piano B (Tongersestraat). Piano B is a takeaway-only pizzeria with an interesting history. Its name means Plan B. A few Italians wanted to try their luck abroad and their Plan A was to open a pizzeria in Australia. This plan fell through, and they ended up in Maastricht: Plan B for them, a blessing for us. They were the ones who, five years ago, persuaded the municipality to grant the first permit for a wood oven, which they subsequently built themselves. Every afternoon at 2 p.m., an oak-wood fire is lit in the oven. By the time the pizzeria opens at 5 p.m., its temperature has reached 400 degrees Celsius. Pizzas only need to spend a little over a minute inside.
We order a Pizza Regina (Margherita with buffalo mozzarella) and a Pizza Diavola. Both are excellent. The Margherita is delicately flavoured, with a light tomato sauce and a soft, fluffy crust. The buffalo mozzarella loses a lot of moisture, so we have to fold our slices to avoid making a mess and we have to eat fast to keep the crust from getting soggy. The Diavola is something else entirely. Its core ingredient is a spicy, homemade sausage from Abruzzo, the region in Italy where the owner is from. The sausage is placed on a layer of solid cheese. The result: a true explosion of flavour. Matteo and I love it and even Mrs. Eichholtz – who isn’t a fan of spicy food at all – thinks it’s delicious. Our initial hunger has been satisfied and all four of us are happy.
We make our way to the next address: Boca Lupo, on the good side of the Vrijthof square. Its name literally means the mouth of the wolf, but in Italy it also means something like ‘break a leg’. Boca Lupo is a restaurant that also offers takeaway. The owner is Dutch, but she has completed the official Neapolitan training course for pizza makers, so she can call herself a pizzaiolo. We order a Pizza Margherita for comparison, as well as a Pizza Prosciutto San Daniele, with dry-cured ham and rocket.
These pizzas are very different from the ones we tried at Piano B. The crust is thin but much crispier, almost biscuit-like. Our Italian dining companions aren’t thrilled about it. Mrs. Eichholtz and I actually quite enjoy the crispiness of the first few bites from the centre of the pizza, but the crust becomes a little dry as we get closer to the edge of the pizza. And the tomato sauce stops about 4 cm from the edge, so there’s a lot of dry crust. It’s a shame, because the sauce itself is quite tasty. The Pizza Prosciutto is better, but its crust, too, is a little dry and wide. There’s room for improvement here.
Although quite satisfied by this point, we get on our bicycles to make our way to Bancale 61 (Scharnerweg). Its owners are Italian and so is its pizzaiolo. Bancale 61 is mainly a takeaway place, but also a restaurant. We order another Pizza Margherita as well as a Pizza Valtellina, because that’s where Marcello is from. It’s a pizza with mushrooms, rocket and, importantly, Bresaola: air-dried, salted beef. The pizza is tasty, but all toppings are added raw to the hot pizza when it comes out of the oven, which means you suddenly have a lot of cold stuff on your plate. Opinions are divided on this.
But then the Pizza Margherita arrives, and it’s absolutely amazing. It’s topped with two types of mozzarella: a layer of cow’s milk mozzarella with four small buffalo mozzarellas on top. It’s a phenomenal pizza all round. The crust is thin, firm yet soft, the edges are perfect in terms of structure and width, the sauce is perfectly flavoured and the cheese is divine. This beautiful pizza without bells and whistles is undoubtedly the best one we’ve tried, even though our hunger has long been satisfied.