96. Bread City

It takes a lot of moxie to call yourself the Bread City in Italy.Italian bread is uniform in its excellence, but like all regional specialties, not in its shape, taste or texture. Genoa is known for its focaccia. Sicilian bread is made with semolina flour and often has sesame seeds sprinkled on top. The Tuscan bread is famously made without any salt at all, with theories for this ranging from its citizens trying to avoid a papal salt tax, to trying to spite Pisa, its rival state, which had a monopoly on salt and was price-gouging. It takes a little getting used to, but once you do, it’s one of the special, distinctive things about being in Tuscany. You wouldn’t want it any other way.

In Altamura, they take their bread extremely seriously, and it is illegal to call anything Altamura bread that is not actually made in Altamura.

“Eat healthy … live better”

It’s not unusual to see more than one bread bakery per block, and I’m sure locals have their own favorite that they would fight to defend. The bakeries typically also make focaccia, taralli, and a few sweet pastries. The bread is made from durum wheat, has a yellow hue and a slightly dense, spongy texture, and is often sliced, which is somewhat unusual in Italy.

Altamura bread and taralli

It also has a distinctive shape, with a hump in the back, which a baker told me stemmed from centuries ago when the women brought their bread to be baked in communal town ovens, and it was necessary to take up less real estate but still produce the needed amount..In the bakery section of an American supermarket, Italian bread means a wider, flatter version of French bread, with a soft, tasteless white interior and a bit of a crust. Worse yet is the bread aisle, where the big companies make a slightly wider version of American white bread and slap the Italian flag on the wrapper. I think Italians would barely even recognize it as bread, let alone Italian.

So does Altamura deserve to call itself Bread City? I think so. It’s the only place in the world where you can find this extraordinary food, so basic and so good.

2 thoughts on “96. Bread City

    1. The one in the photo is more like the Einstein Brothers equivalent, i.e., supersized. The true taralli are about the size of a half dollar. Also, unlike bagels, taralli are crunchy.–Ben


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