Some enjoy it with jam for breakfast, while others line it with salami and cheese for lunch.
There are those who have a loaf on the table to enrich every meal and those who use it to do the traditional “scarpetta” (little shoe), wiping up the leftover sauce on their plates.
Bread is embedded in Italian culture and myriad different types with particular characteristics are made and devoured across the Belpaese.
Altopascio, in Tuscany, is home to the National Association of Bread, which comprises 50 towns across 15 regions, excluding Aosta Valley, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Abruzzo and Molise.
The association seeks to promote the production of this iconic product, the conservation of traditional recipes and the correct consumption in Italians’ diets.
It would be impossible to explore the recipes, characteristics and secrets of all of the different breads used in Italy, so we’ve chosen to focus on a few of the most famous.
Altopascio couldn’t have become home to the association without its own signature bread.
Relatively healthy, this particular bread doesn’t contain salt or yeast.
Instead, bakers knead the bread day after day to ensure that it rises, in a procedure followed only in the towns of Altopascio, Porcari, Montecarlo and Castelfranco di Sotto.
This bread comes in two forms – a square loaf or a baguette – and is crunchy on the outside with a soft centre.
It rests under hemp cloths, which allow it to rise gradually, but not too much, while preserving its flavour.
Genzano bread has long boasted Indication of Geographical Protection (IGP) status.
This typically homemade bread has a very “wide” crumb, is light and well-flavoured and comes in the shape of a loaf or baguette.
It pairs well with cured meats from the Roman Castles territory, including the famous porchetta from Ariccia, a fellow IGP product.
It also tastes delicious with prosciutto or salami.
From Lazio to Basilicata, you’ll come across Matera’s famous bread which stands out due to its peculiar form.
Made with durum wheat flour, it looks a little like an oversized croissant and loaves can weigh up to two kilograms.
It has a traditional flavour and keeps for an exceptionally long time – up to nine days – making for an economic and versatile product.
The bread of Altamura, in Puglia, has a similar form to that of Matera.
It looks like a rock or a hill and is produced only in Altamura, giving it Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) status recognised across Europe.
Locals call it “sckuanéte” (crossed bread).
It never weighs less than one kilogram, is a pale yellow hue and is produced with durum wheat flour derived from the milling of four different types of native durum wheat.
We’ll finish with the bread of Triora, the Ligurian village which was known as the “breadbasket of Genoa” centuries ago due to its historical production of bread in the communal oven situated in Vico del Forno.
The town is famous both for its bread and its witches, known locally as “baggiure,” who were captured, trialled and burnt during the 16th
century for supposedly practising satanic rituals in the surrounding forests.
There seems to be a connection between the baked specialty and witches in the area.
Apparently, the witchcraft came about as a result of the consumption of the bread, which was once prepared with rye infected with the fungus Claviceps purpurea.
This fungus contains lysergic acid (found in hallucinogens such as LSD and LSA), which caused alterations in the nervous system.
Today, the bread is obviously made with fewer potent ingredients, while its delicious taste remains unchanged.
It’s made from a base of wholemeal flour (0, 00 and buckwheat) and is celebrated for its high levels of fibre and protein and the fact that it keeps for up to a week.
It’s easily recognised by its large, bubbly shape and the square incision on its surface.
This bread is cooked on chestnut leaves to ensure the edges don’t stick to the oven.
In fact, it’s not rare to come across a loaf wrapped in chestnut leaves as it would’ve been sold centuries ago.
Locals pair this bread with another specialty, “bruss”, which is a spreadable cheese fermented in alcohol such as grappa or brandy.