By Mary Ann Bourbeau
RED BANK – Biagio Schiano wanted nothing but the best for his new pizzeria, so he imported an authentic wood-burning oven crafted from volcanic clay taken from the ground near Naples, Italy.
“The soil surrounding Mount Vesuvius has a certain amount of minerals that allow it to hold in the heat,” Schiano said.
It’s just one of many details he has painstakingly followed to create real Vera Pizza Napoletana, or authentic Neapolitan pizza.
His restaurant, Biagio, opened in October in the former Zebu Forno restaurant on Broad Street that had been owned by Schiano’s business partner, Andrew Gennusa.
“The ingredients are really the key to the whole thing,” Schiano said. “It has to be very specific stuff. Italy only makes money on tourism and the export of goods. Just like wine labels certify that it is a specific product from a specific place, it’s the same with oil, flour and tomatoes.”
The Caputo flour he imports from Italy is milled by stone, not with a grinder, and has no bleach or chemical processing. The barley shells are crushed and a fine mesh is used to sift the flour through. “Caputo is the best brand name,” he said. “It’s expensive but it does create a fluffy, light dough.”
Schiano studied in Naples to gain the knowledge and skills needed to make the same type of pizza with the same exact ingredients in the United States. He only uses 100 percent San Marzano tomatoes, certified by the government to be grown in the volcanic soil south of Naples known for its temperate climate. “The minerals in the soil produce a really thick-bodied tomato with not too many seeds,” he said. “The area also has a long growing season, from April to October. After five months, you get a rich, meaty tomato.”
Schiano makes his own fresh mozzarella daily, uses only extra virgin olive oil; his gourmet sea salt is from the waters of Trapani, off the coast of Sicily.
When the pizza is placed in the wood-burning oven, it cooks in a mere 90 seconds, as opposed to a standard oven-baked pie that takes 8-12 minutes. “It is literally a 2,000-year-old process,” said Schiano, who lives in Red Bank with his wife and two children. “I believe if you eat a pizza here and a pizza in Naples, there is very little difference.”
Schiano’s parents hail from Naples where his great-grandmother owned a restaurant that is still in the family. His parents moved to Brooklyn in 1966 and opened a pizzeria. In 1972 they returned to Italy but in 1975, just after Schiano was born, they returned to the U.S. and opened pizzerias in Brooklyn, Neptune and Wanamassa, as well as a restaurant in Eatontown. Those places are gone, but Schiano still runs the other family business, Mossuto’s restaurant and market in Wall Township, which opened in 1980.
“I grew up in Mossuto’s,” he said. “I was a server and learned how to make pizza. When you have a family business, you do whatever you have to do to make it work.”
After graduating high school, Schiano went to New York University and later graduated from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, but stopped short of doing his residency.
“Much to my parents’ dismay, I realized being a doctor was not the thing I was meant to do,” he said. “Food is what I love, what I enjoy. It’s more than just a hobby for me.”
He met Gennusa 15 years ago at Mossuto’s and the two reconnected again recently as Gennusa was contemplating closing the Zebu Forno’s Red Bank location. They decided to go into business together and turn it into Biagio’s, which sells nothing but salad, flatbread paninis and pizza, with margherita pizza being the most popular.
“I had done sausage and meats and everything else at Mossuto’s but pizza was the only thing I never delved into,” he said. “It took me several years to get it down and it’s pretty exciting. I’m happy to participate in this ancient craft and bring a little bit of Naples to Red Bank.”