Looking to reclaim her pizza crown, Lancaster County pizzamaker Norma Knepp signed up for the 2019 Caputo Cup.
It was at the Caputo Cup in 2016, where she was named the chef with the best New York-style pizza in the country. That win brought fame and business to Knepp’s business, Norma’s Pizza at Root’s Country Market & Auction, along with visits from pizza chefs and food media.
However, health problems prevented Knepp from going to the competition, held last week in Atlantic City. Carmine Testa, of Carmine’s Pizza Factory in New Jersey, won the top prize in the traditional category.
While Knepp brought home the top prize three years ago, she isn’t a fan of traffic to the Jersey shore, she says. A friend was going to take her to the Pizza & Pasta Northeast convention but she worried about her health and missing Root’s market day, Tuesday.
“There was too many problems here to get straightened out,” she says.
Outside of the high-stakes world of pizza competitions, Knepp is busy at her stand at Root’s. Around the holidays, she closed her stand to care for her ailing mother. Edna Miller died in January and since then, Knepp returned to Root’s, mainly making New York-style pizza and a pan pizza with a crispy bottom and carmelized cheese spread to the edge, similar to Sicilian pizza.
She continues to work on her recipes. That’s especially important with an oven that cooks pizzas inconsistently, depending on the rack.
Knepp’s busy enough to ask customers to have full pie orders in by Monday. She will take the time to add special ingredients from customers, like sauce with habanero and foraged chicken of the woods mushroom or a big bouquet of fresh oregano.
Pizza blogger and maker Adam Kuban stopped by in August to make a few pies. He called it one of the best pizza experiences of his life.
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Last Tuesday, at @NormasPizza, I had one of the best pizza experiences of my life.¶⠀ ¶⠀ [This is Part 1 of 3 of #akubanXnormaspizza. Turn on notifications for my feed so you don’t miss later installments.]¶⠀ ¶⠀ Not only did I eat some award-winning NY-style pizza—at a country market in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, of all places—I got to MAKE my own pizza, and, best of all, hang out for a couple hours with one of the pizza world’s most curious, obsessive, and exacting minds, Ms. Norma Knepp.¶⠀ ¶⠀ It’s remarkable that Norma didn’t know a thing about pizza when she opened her stand at @RootsCountryMarket in Manheim, Pennsylvania, in 2009. She was trying to make ends meet by selling funnel cakes, ice cream, and lemonade in a different stall after her now-late husband, Albert, had a fall and couldn’t run their caramel corn stand anymore. When funnel cakes weren’t doing it, she jumped at the chance to try pizza after market management mentioned they’d like to add it to the lineup there.¶⠀ ¶⠀ With no experience making pizza, Norma turned to a local pizzeria owner who was set to help her—until he ended up in the hospital. Then she found Pizzamaking.com, which has a thriving community of amateur, pro-am, and professional pizza-makers on its message boards. The folks on the Pizzamaking forums helped Norma as she honed her recipe for the stand.¶⠀ ¶⠀ If you poke around her post history there, you’ll see her steady evolution from student to master. But evident the entire time is her insatiable curiosity, which tends to take the form of pizza-cloning.¶⠀ ¶⠀ She seems to learn best by imitation, fiddling with variables until she re-creates a facsimile pie of whatever pizzeria has captured her imagination. When I visited, she helped walk me through stretching, cheesing, and saucing a knock-off of Johnny’s in Mount Vernon, NY.¶⠀ ¶⠀ To clone these pies, she’s gone as far as staking out target pizzerias, peeking in their trash bins to suss out ingredients by the discarded packaging.¶⠀ ¶⠀ Until the next installment, #hastalapizza. 😊🍕✌🏻¶⠀ ¶⠀ #pizzarumspringa #hastalapizza #hashtagpizza #pizzagram #pizza @pizza #seriouseats #slicenyc #food #rootsmarket #rootscountrymarket
“Norma’s not unlike the Borg in Star Trek, and I’ve lost track of the styles and iconic pies she’s assimilated into her unimatrix of pizza knowledge over the years,” Kuban wrote on Instagram.
Knepp would like to make more styles, but it’s difficult to keep up with her long list of orders, she says.
Every week, she wonders how long she’ll continue. A new problem just arose with her supplier and her favorite cheese.
But she keeps making pizzas.
“Pizza still inspires me,” she says.