Growing up in a small rural town in central Illinois, the extent of my experience with “Italian” cuisine was limited to spaghetti, lasagna and pizza. So when I bit into my first calzone during my second year at the University of Illinois, I assumed this hot, greasy pocket of meat and cheese was one of those gluttonous delicacies that only exist on college campuses.
Little did I know, this oven-baked doughy delight is a cornerstone of Italian cuisine, and there are many more just like it — starting with stromboli. However, just as I’ve learned that not all pasta– and tomato-based Italian meals are the same, what’s the difference between a calzone and stromboli?
Jim Mumford, a professional chef and purveyor of the website Jim Cooks Food Good, likens the variance between them to “the difference between a taco and burrito.” A calzone is “made from a standard pizza dough filled with cheese and toppings,” he explains, “while a stromboli is made of standard pizza dough filled with layers of cheese, sauce and toppings.”
Calzones typically include ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheese and are served with sauce on the side for dipping. Stromboli, meanwhile, is typically baked with low-moisture mozzarella cheese only, and often has the sauces cooked within it.
But the foremost difference between a calzone and stromboli lies in their shape. The calzone, which originated in Naples around the 18th century, “is made by folding the dough over into a half moon shape and then baked,” Mumford says. Stromboli, which originated in Philadelphia, is “rolled into a long log, baked and then cut into pinwheels.”
Regardless of their similar preparation and ingredients, Mumford continues, there’s a vast difference in how the two taste as well. “Just because the ingredients are the same, the result is not,” he says. “Calzones will usually stay with pizza toppings, and tend to be much more crisp due to the baking size, while a stromboli can have Italian cold cuts or, my personal Chicago favorite, Italian beef and giardiniera.”
With that in mind, he adds, stromboli isn’t generally as crispy as its calzone counterpart.
And finally, there’s arguably a difference in how each is consumed. “Stromboli is typically served as an appetizer,” Mumford concludes, “while a calzone can be a single serving meal — at least for me, don’t judge.”