The Great Tuscan Bread Debate

Filoni (loaves) and ciambelle (rounds)

Don’t miss our private authentic home-cooked dinner at Baonecci on Sunday and help resolve this bread debate.

Every time I’m in Tuscany somebody complains about Tuscan bread. It’s made without salt. The Toscani say it’s so the bread won’t interfere with the taste of the dishes on the table, and I think they know what they’re doing.

They’ve been making bread in the “bread capital of Italia,” Altopascio, since the middle ages. The village was on a main pilgrimage route and the bakers ensured the pilgrims had bread each day. The bread’s fame is due to the local water and the natural yeast in the air – but no salt.

Altopascio is just 20 KM southwest of Lucca (the birthplace of Puccini. Lucca is one of my favorite cities. The historical center is enclosed by medieval walls so wide that you can walk all around the centro storico on a grassy path atop the walls.

Puccini in front of his home in Lucca

Here’s a statue of Lucca’s favorite son the composer Giacomo Puccini. There’s a great bakery on the corner of the street leading into this piazza. I had my first bite of Buccellato Lucchese there. Buccellato is a gently sweet cross between bread and coffee cake, redolent of yeast and anise, studded with raisins and nuts and with a texture at once lightly tender yet seductively substantial. My best find in Lucca!

So, what’s the final verdict on Tuscan bread? Decide for yourself with the Gambaccini family – former Altopascio bakers.

Of course, I’ll be providing some more historical and cultural context for the four courses and four Italian wines we’ll be sharing. Hope to see you there.

A presto!


11 Replies to “The Great Tuscan Bread Debate”

  1. I found another bread in the Tuscan region. It’s made with corn flour. It’s a white bread with a hard crust. It comes out of the oven with about a 50cm radius, and when you buy it you only buy what you need out of it. They cut a piece in front of you, weigh it and you’re charged for the weight. It’s called “Pane Antico” I can’t say it’s my favorite, but I do like it very much. Has anyone heard of it or tried it?

    Francesca.

    1. Ciao Francesca. I’ve not had pane antico. I’ll look for it next trip to Tuscany. It’s fun to buy bread by weight at many bakeries throughout Italia.

  2. Hi Gianni,

    How do you make sourdough? Can you share some secrets, or is that a vital sin? I’m sure Pane Brutto secrets would be hard one to maintain. I’ll try and do some investigating next time I buy some bread and keep you posted.

    1. I like sourdough but it’s not my bread of choice at my table. I like to serve bread to sop up sauces in my dishes. I rather have bread with a more neutral flavor, with or without salt. Sourdough is too assertive to use as an accompaniment.

  3. Hi Gianni,

    Breads with sesame seeds are good but I would have to argue that sesame seeds every day on a lunch table becomes way too messy, and one easily gets tired of it. The bread that I love is based in Viareggio (LU) Tuscany, where they do Carnevale. It’s called “Pane Brutto”. It’s a whole meal bread that’s crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. Have you tried it?

    Francesca.

    1. Ciao Francesca. Never had pane brutto but gotta love the name, ugly bread. Crusty exterior and soft inside sounds like my kind of bread. Oh, those sesame seeds on the table–I love to scoop them all up and throw them all in my mouth.

  4. Italians find their own bread nasty XD This bread is awesome when grilled to prepare Crostini or Bruschetta 😛 Otherwise, it’s not really good alone.

    1. Ciao William. You’re right. We’ll be using it both for crostini toscani and a bruschetta at our Baonecci dinner.

      I have to say that some of the best and the worst bread I’ve eaten has been in Italia. At many restaurants bread has a coperto a charge. Often it doesn’t look that great and we don’t want it with our meal.

      But, for me there’s nothing better than a warm Sicilian yellow semolina bread covered with sesame seeds. And, if I’m putting together an antipasti with salumi and cheeses i’ll search out a great bread. I love anything from Forno Antico just outside Campo di Fiore in Rome or an integrale (whole wheat) loaf from my favorite bakery in Naples’ Spanish Quarter.

      1. Sicilian bread is simply amazing, they are using an Ischia Starter which is just a new technique of using the yeast in the air from Naples. You’re from the Bay Area so you could just match your whole thing with authentic San Francisco sourdough bread 😀

        1. Ciao William. Thanks for the insight. My friend has a bakery here in SF. He makes a bread using yeast in the air for his sourdough. I’ll have to spend some time with him and try a sourdough in my kitchen.

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