Entering for the first time into a foreign supermarket can be a little overwhelming – all these new smells, colours and most of all the language barrier. We will try to help you prepare for you first visit – telling you what to look for and what to look out for! This article focuses on baked breads.
Baked goods in Italy can be divided into two areas – bread and sweets. BREAD has been a staple all around the world and in every culture you will find that they have their own way of making the best bread ever. It is very common to find fresh bread – baked daily – on the table in every Italian house hold. It is sold in different sizes by weight normally 500 grams, 1 kilo and the larger size of 1 and a half kilos. You can find larger measures but normally they are not the traditional Tuscan bread. So how do you tell them all apart? Well they are divided into 4 basic categories – bread without salt, bread with salt, bread with salt and olive oil and the fourth category includes everything else, even the ever famous Ciaccia or sometimes better known as foccacia.
The most traditional type of bread found in the center of Tuscany is the typical pane comune or pane casalinga. The ingredients include flour and water – and depending on the baker they can either use yeast to make it rise or they can let it rise naturally. It is characterized by its round or oblong shape and the fact that it is quite compact – since it doesn`t rise to be very high. You will normally find this bread in any store or forno you go into – and it is NOT salted. Legend has it that once upon a time in Tuscany the Pope got quite mad at the people and punished them by taking away their salt trade. Salt is an important part of any diet – even the romans knew that when they made salt part of the pay that their soldiers received – and the Pope had hoped to bring the Tuscan people to their knees by taking it away. But the Tuscans were made of tougher stuff and simply started making their dishes without salt – another reason why you will find the meals in Tuscany spicey and flavourful. When the Pope finally gave up on them and let them have their salt trade back, the Tuscans continued to hold on to the bread without salt, and thus it has stayed this way. Some even say that a bread with salt or too much flavour will take away from their tastey dishes!
Within the last 20 years, it has be come quite common to find pane salato and pane all`olio in the stores in order to accomodate the large number of visitors that come to Tuscany. This bread is characterized by its light brown flakey crust, it is normally higher than bread without salt because it is left to rise in a different manner and it has a tendency be fresh and soft for only a day or two – this is most definitely much closer to what most non-Italians know as italian bread. It is normally more flavourful and less commpact than other types of bread. You will find this type of bread most prevelant near the coast. One of the main differences between this bread and the typical bread without salt is that the bread without salt will last a little longer, in fact this type of bread is the bases for many popular poor man dishes in all of Tuscany like the great summer salad Panzanella or the winter treat Minestra di Pane.
Focaccia, or sometimes better known to the local Tuscans as schiacciata or “ciaccia” (pronounced cha – cha), is the typical bread for snacking with. It is a low, flat bread made with flour, water, a little bit of salt and typically found with salt and olive oil liberally sprinkled on top right after it has come out of the oven. It is extremely flavorful and many times can be found with a variety of toppings (rosemary, olives, tomatoes and so many other delicous things.) You can find this bread in all local supermarkets or forno – which literally means oven, and they make it fresh on the premises. There is nothing like walking into a forno early in the morning and smelling the bread coming out of the oven. It is very rare to find fresh bread made on Sunday – normally the bread you buy on Sunday is left over from Saturday, so it is always better to ask the baker if it is “fresco di oggi”
Since bread is the principle ingredient in any Italian meal, you will find that it comes literaly in all shapes, weights and flavours. Just to name a few, there is the Ciabatta, which is characterized by being very flat but it has a very light and fluffly interior – filled with lots of air bubbles and flavour dough or the Rosetta which is made up like a little flower – the ingredients include flour, water and salt characterized by its fluffy appearance and floury taste or even Pane Pugliese, this is normally a large round bread, very high and fluffy with a dark brown crust. If you prefer whole grain breads you may want to look for Pane Panda. It is also common in many restaurants to find Grissini, a long very narrow bread which is extremely crunchy. You will not see a lot of what is commonly known to non-Italians as sandwhich bread – they call it pane carre, and use it often to make “tramazine” (sandwhiches filled with ham,eggs,tunafish or other typcial sauces), “toast” (ham and cheese sandwhiches which are toasted in an oven) or little before dinner snacks (antipasti). If you are looking for this in the supermarket ask for “pa-nay-car-ray”, acccent on the last syllabal – and expect to see a slight look of disapproval on their face…
The best place to find fresh bread is in the local forno – they make it every morning! The larger supermarkets or little specialty stores normally have more than one type of forno who delivers bread fresh everyday – just look on the label to see who the baker is. Normally you will find the bread pre-wrapped in transparent plastic with a white label indicating the ingredients, the baker, the name of the product, how much it wieghs and how much it costs or at the counter, where they will cut it to size. The cost of bread has been established by the local government and you will find that the standard white bread has the same costs, the price difference is due to the weight. We offer a special thanks to Menchetti, who provided the photos and information on the various types of bread. You can find their fresh baked products throughout Tuscany – just look for the orange and yellow symbol above.
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