Why is the cheese on my neighborhood slice so awful?
In connection with the slashing of Lucali’s Mark Iacono, a piece in this week’s New York magazine’s Intelligencer details the connections between mobsters and pizza parlors — cutely configured as a slice of pizza. In a sidebar, the article mentions how shakedowns from the suppliers of one ingredient or another — it mentions olive oil — were common. But the article missed the most coerced ingredient of all — the cheese used on the pies.
In his 1981 book on the mob called Vicious Circles: The Mafia in the Marketplace, the late Jonathan Kwitny detailed how Al Capone — who owned a string of dairy farms near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin — forced New York pizzerias to use his rubbery mob cheese, so different from the real mozzarella produced here in New York City since the first immigrants from Naples arrived in Brooklyn around 1900.
As the story goes, the only places permitted to use good mozzarella made locally were the old-fashioned pizza parlors like Lombardi’s, Patsy’s, and John’s, which could continue doing so only if they promised to never serve slices. According to Kwitny, this is why John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker Street still has the warning “No Slices” on its awning today. Apparently, neighborhood pizzerias that served slices and refused to use Capone’s cheese would be firebombed. Even today, the cheese used in neighborhood pizza parlors remains distinctly inferior. Does the mob still control the distribution of cheese to neighborhood pizzerias?
According to Jonathan Kwitny, “No Slices” means “Don’t Firebomb This Pizza Parlor.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 25, 2011