Dream Day in Italy: Pizza Pilgrimage to Pepe in Grani as Featured in Season 3

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2022 of Dream of Italy. This is also a featured “dream day” in Kathy McCabe’s new book, Dream Days in Italy: 30 Adventures Around the Italian Boot

There is pizza. There is Neapolitan pizza. And then there is the pizza made by Franco Pepe in his small hometown of Caiazzo in the province of Caserta, some 30 miles from Naples. Every evening, dozens of pizza pilgrims from around the world, holding coveted reservations, line up to enter Pepe in Grani.

I joined the throngs this month to taste the pizza and meet the man who opened this mecca in 2012, for the third season of Dream of Italy on PBS. Pepe, who grew up in his family pizzeria, was launched into the culinary stratosphere in 2014, when Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold dubbed Pepe’s modern creations as  “probably the best pizza in the world.” 

What makes Pepe’s pizza unique? Passion, as usual, cannot be underestimated. Add the willingness to take the slow methodical route versus mass production. For me and many fans, the difference is the dough. Pepe’s dough starts with a unique blend of 0 and 00 flour and kneaded by hand (a mano) daily in wooden boxes and never refrigerated. You don’t feel bloated or overly full after consuming it. 

Pepe has redefined how pizza is cooked, most notably with his Margherita Sbagliata in which only the cheese is added to the dough before the oven. After it comes out, it is then topped with a cold liquidy blend of ancient tomatoes and as well as a chilled basil oil mix. The cheese, including the area’s famed buffala mozzarella, comes from cheesemakers that Pepe’s family has known for generations. 

Reservations can be made online. Open for dinner only, Tuesday through Sunday. Visit the website for transportation options. You can make a night or weekend of it by staying in one of the Pepe in Grani’s two guest rooms or a B&B in town. For more information, visit www.pepeingrani.it

–Kathy McCabe

Find out more about the Caserta episode of Season 3 of Dream of Italy on PBS.