Do you think that the expression "as good as bread" exists by chance? Never has a saying been so apt. Let's see why.
World Bread Day is held every year on 16 October to celebrate one of the oldest foods and a source of nourishment for mankind since earliest times. Established in 1981 as World Food Day to commemorate the founding of FAO (16 October 1945), the event was extended to World Bread Day in 2006. It is no coincidence that FAO's emblem is an ear of wheat (symbolising the abundance of food) accompanied by the Latin expression «FIAT PANIS», meaning "may there be bread" (for all).
Throughout history, this delicious and nutrient product has been spread worldwide with its flavour and taste. Now a regular event, this international day aims to emphasise the crucial role of bread in a balanced diet and in eliminating hunger, even at particularly difficult times in human history. It also seeks to promote the authentic flavours of the past while keeping regional specificities alive.
Bread: an ancient symbol of life
Archaeological evidence dating back to the Palaeolithic period tells us of a mixture of water and cereals crushed with stones, kneaded and dried in the sun. Only after the discovery of fire was the dough baked on heated rocks. However, the actual inventors of bread were the Egyptians who discovered the fermentation of barley bread crumbled in water and left to ferment to produce beer. Further experiments led from fermentation to actual leavening.
The Hebrews are credited with the creation of unleavened azzimo bread. As the Bible tells us, they had to flee from Egypt, so they did not have time for long and elaborate bread-making. The Romans, for their part, also have a lot to say on this subject. Numerous archaeological excavations have even made it possible to recreate the recipe for panis quadratus, one of the many types of bread that were popular in Ancient Rome.
Water and flour, simple and indispensable ingredients, still give rise to a unique product in its many forms. As if by magic, the natural action of the yeast (as we will see shortly, not in all cases) and the skill of expert hands create a food that is unequalled in its magnificent genuineness. The American Ancel Keys, the father of the Mediterranean diet, attached great importance to bread and described it as the 'sustainer of life'. Thanks to its high nutrient and energy content, it is one of the mainstays of our diet.
In whatever format and version you find it, bread is an essential element on Italian tables. Bread is the perfume that inebriates the alleys where the old bakeries stand: it is unique taste and culture. Every region, town or small village boasts its typical specialities to combine with a wide range of flavours. Since it is impossible to list all the types of bread produced in Italy, we will limit ourselves to a brief overview of the most famous and particular ones. What do you say, shall we start tasting?
10. Rye bread
Rye bread, also known as black bread, is typically dark because rye flour is used instead of white flour. Rye is particularly resistant to the typical climate of mountain regions, with freezing temperatures and relative dryness. Typical of northern Italy, black bread is produced in Valle d'Aosta, Trentino-Alto Adige and Piedmont. In Valle d'Aosta, in addition to the classic rye bread, there is a variety of dried figs, walnuts and chestnuts. In Trentino Alto Adige, in South Tyrol, rye bread is flavoured with cumin and fennel.
9. Ciabatta bread
The ciabatta is one of the typical bakery products of the Veneto region. It originates precisely in Adria, in the province of Rovigo. It has a characteristic flat and long shape that recalls a slipper, not surprisingly (hence the name "ciabatta"). Its crust is golden and crunchy, while the crumb is somewhat porous. Unlike other types of bread, ciabatta has a high liquid content, representing at least 70% of the total weight of flour used. It is ideal for a sandwich filled with tasty ingredients, especially cold cuts and cheese.
8. Abruzzo potato bread
Abruzzo potato bread is typical of the hinterland, particularly the L'Aquila mountains. Its "creation" stemmed from the need to save flour, which was more expensive than potatoes. Easily available in the area, potatoes were undoubtedly cheaper. The presence of starch in the dough means that bread keeps for several days, even a week, without losing its soft and fragrant character. The crust of the potato bread is somewhat crunchy, while the crumb is soft and spongy.
Its preparation requires a very long and laborious process, with several stages of rising. However, the taste will compensate for the delicate and patient work of the master bakers. It goes exceptionally well with every typical dish of the Abruzzo tradition, especially with the fine local cold cuts and cheese: a real delicacy!
7. Unsalted bread
For years now, there has been debate about the origin of a typical Tuscan delicacy: unsalted bread. We should point out that the Umbria and Marche traditions also include bread without salt. However, the birth of unsalted bread has its roots in the Middle Ages. In the eighteenth canto of Paradiso, Dante Alighieri wrote: «You will see how salty other people's bread tastes».The Supreme Poet wanted to indicate the difficulties and hardships of exile outside Tuscany and Florence, where bread is salty.
Let us now go back to the origins of "silly" bread, so called probably because of the analogy with people who have "little salt in their noggin". Why does it not contain salt? Well, it seems that, in the 12th century, the Pisans exponentially increased the cost of salt arriving at their port. The Florentines, known rivals of the Pisans, certainly did not submit to this "spite" and, in response, began to make bread without salt.
According to another hypothesis, which is also quite plausible, the reason would lie in the heavy taxes (the famous salt taxes) that the Municipality of Florence established in the Middle Ages. This is how the bakers of Florence decided to produce unsalted bread. Finally, another theory is based on the fact that Tuscan cuisine is characterised by very strong and decisive flavours, including those of cured meats and cheese. Therefore, salt would be in excess. However, whatever the real reason behind the creation of this speciality, unsalted bread is a perfect match for Tuscan gastronomic tradition.
6. PDO Montecalvo Irpino bread
A local speciality of Montecalvo Irpino, a municipality in the province of Avellino, this bread is counted among the typical products of Campania and is granted PDO status. The small hamlet, which lies in a peaceful setting between Avellino and Benevento, is part of the Italian National Association of Bread Cities. Its dough is made according to the ancient traditional recipe, handed down from generation to generation, following an accurate and elaborate procedure.
In addition to rigorous preparation, what makes Montecalvo bread unique is the flour made from Saragolla wheat. This is a hard mountain wheat grown exclusively in the area. It has a very thick crust on the outside and a compact crumb with cavities (a sign of authentic quality). Montecalvo Irpino bread has an unbeliavable flavour: soft, fragrant and with an inebriating scent. No explanation can ever describe it as fully as it deserves: just try it!
5. PGI Matera bread
PGI Matera bread is produced in the province of Matera, in Basilicata. It is made from re-milled or durum wheat semolina, natural yeast, salt and water. The sourdough is obtained from the pulp of fresh fruit, previously macerated. It is baked in a wood-fired oven for a period that varies according to the size of the loaf.
Available in the classic croissant shape, it has a crunchy crust, a golden-brown colour, a yellow crumb and a rather heterogeneous porosity. The typical burnt scent is another of its distinguishing features. The PGI designation derives from both its unique organoleptic properties and local historical traditions. Matera bread embodies the true essence of Lucanian culture.
4. PDO Altamura bread
An emblem of the agro-pastoral culture of the Alta Murgia region, Altamura bread is firmly rooted in the rural traditions of its production area. The bread's durability made it the perfect food for farmers and shepherds who worked far from home for long periods. Produced in the municipality from which it takes its name, in the province of Bari, it received its PDO designation in 2005.
It has a thousand-year history of using ingredients that have remained unchanged over time. Durum wheat flour, water, salt and sourdough starter are skilfully worked according to an ancient recipe known since the Middle Ages. The women kneaded the bread at home and baked it in public ovens. Each loaf was characterised by its large size and marked by the baker with the family's initials to prevent confusion. This custom symbolised sociability with the community. On the outside, Altamura bread has the typical folded shape, known as skuanate in the local dialect. Inside, it has a relatively soft, straw-yellow crumb with a homogeneous alveolation. What makes it unique is its scent: a true poem for the sense of smell.
Rosetta is the Romans' favourite bread. As can be easily guessed, it owes its name to the flower as, during baking, it blooms like a rose, vaguely resembling its shape. It belongs to the category of "puffed" bread, empty and almost without crumbs, with a particularly crumbly crust. Rosetta is the ideal format to be filled with cold meats (especially the scented mortadella), cheeses, pork, and vegetables or whatever else you want. While still warm and crunchy, you should try it to appreciate its taste, fragrance, and texture.
2. Pane carasau
A traditional Sardinian speciality, pane carasau (or carasau bread) originates in the mists of time. According to some archaeologists, it dates back as far as 1000 BC. Widespread throughout Sardinia, this thin disc of dough originated in the historical region of Barbagia as food for shepherds. As well as keeping for a long time, it was ideal during periods of transhumance thanks to its high calorie content.
The name carasau comes from the verb carasare, which means to toast, referring to the final stage of its preparation. In fact, it is baked again in order to give it its typical crunchiness. Its ancient preparation is as long and delicate as it is fascinating. Made of water and flour, carasau bread can be eaten plain or, alternatively, it can be combined perfectly with sweet or savoury dishes. When seasoned with salt and oil, it is called guttiau. Due to the characteristic sound emitted during chewing, carasau bread is also known as carta musica (literally, sheet music). When taste is not the only one of the 5 senses to be involved, it is pure magic!
1. Muffoletta bread
The Sicilian muffoletta is a sandwich whose name means soft and spongy. Also known as muffuletta, moffoletta, muffoletto, muffulietta, or guastedda, depending on the area. In 1906, Salvatore Lupo exported this typical Sicilian product to the United States. This is how the famous Muffuletta sandwich was born, and it is still a tasty and popular sandwich in New Orleans today. Round in shape, its dough is made from durum wheat semolina flour, water, brewer's yeast, salt, fennel or anise seeds and extra virgin olive oil. In some parts of Sicily, such as Palermo, the muffolette are sprinkled with sesame seeds on their surface. This delicious little bread is here for the characteristic pani câ meusa (namely, spleen sandwich). However, it is ideal for stuffing salami, cheese, meat or vegetable. Try it to believe it!