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Monday, July 28, 2014
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Published: Monday, 3/3/2014

COMMENTARY

Defining pizza, Oreos

At what point is a rose by another name no longer a rose?

BY MARY BILYEU
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Even before finding them in grocery stores, I’d seen the new Oreo flavors - Marshmallow Crispy and Cookie Dough - splashed all over Facebook. There was a great deal of curiosity mixed with a bit of suspicion regarding them, I must admit. Almost no one seemed to be willing to try them, looking askance at these oddities impersonating the familiar and beloved cookie.

I had planned to coordinate a taste test, but then other topics intruded and I felt compelled to diverge from the original path. (My thoughts have a tendency to get lost along tangents, and I require a flow chart, sometimes, to find my way back.) Because just as I was plotting my cookie tasting, hoping to find willing researchers - it sounds so much better than “guinea pigs,” doesn’t it? - I read a headline on NPR’s website: “Justice Scalia And Jon Stewart Concur Chicago Pizza Isn’t Pizza.” The Supreme Court justice is quoted as saying the Chicago version “is very tasty, but it’s not pizza.” Now, I’ll be honest - I don’t usually concur with Justice Scalia on anything. But on this topic, we do agree.

I grew up in New York City, where the pizza is thin, greasy, and foldable. Over the years, I have eaten my share, and much more, of the famous Chicago-style deep dish pizza; I love it. But I would classify it as more of a casserole, a lasagna in a crust. To my mind, even the California-style pizza promoted by Wolfgang Puck decades ago, with newfangled toppings, was still pizza: flat bread, sauce, cheese. Detroit-style pizza, too - with its square slices, sauce on top, and caramelized cheese out to the edges of the crust - still meets these basic requirements.

Dave Liske, of the blog Luna Pier Cook, chimed in on the Facebook page posting about the Chicago vs. New York battle that he doesn’t believe “either Chicago nor NYC can claim ‘authentic’ or ‘real pizza’ unless it’s a simple Pizza Margherita made with tomato, basil and mozzarella made in a wood-fired oven, exactly the way it was invented in Naples, Italy.” He’s granting each version a spot on the broad spectrum, and pointed out that his home’s resident pizza expert would include stromboli, too, “even though the crust is closed and sealed,” because it is essentially a rolled and folded pizza.

Our back-and-forth - Mr. Liske maintaining a more welcoming stance, my asking whether there shouldn’t be a standard definition of a food item, such that this is a pizza while that isn’t - then led my boyfriend, Craig, to bring up chili dogs ... coneys, specifically. When he first moved to California in the 1980s and ordered a coney, he received a hot dog topped with chili. And the chili had beans in it. As any Detroiter will tell you, this is not acceptable. (I happily note that Tony Packo’s refers to “dogs,” and their own fabulously unique versions of them.) If it has beans, call it a chili dog but don’t call it a coney. A coney is a hot dog topped with a loose meat sauce; beans don’t belong in it any more than they do in a Texan’s chili. But do Texans get to define “chili,” when so many others think it’s simply beef stew without the red kidney beans added?

And so, in my usual convoluted manner, I get back to the Oreos. When you hear the word “Oreo,” what do you think of? I think of the chocolate cookies with the creamy filling, and the ritual of twisting the cookies apart before licking the frosting. I’ll allow the Double Stuf variety, and spare you my rant about “stuff” being misspelled, because it still meets the basic definition of an Oreo: chocolate cookie, filling, another chocolate cookie. Too much filling for my taste, but that’s not my point.

What, precisely, is my point after all this rambling? The original question I had when I learned of the new Oreo varieties, a question that mattered even more to me than how they tasted.

At what point do these treats no longer get to use the iconic name - when the original cookie is used but the filling is different? When the filing is the same, but placed in a different cookie flavor? Or, in the matter of the Marshmallow Crispy and Cookie Dough versions, when there is no continuity at all from the classic? Just because these flavors fall under the Oreo brand, if they don’t possess that traditional combination of chocolate cookie and creamy filling that cries out for a glass of cold milk then, really, are they still Oreos?

Contact Mary Bilyeu at 
mbilyeu@theblade.com
 or 419-724-6155 or on Twitter @foodfloozie.



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