Panificio or Italian Bakery: The Bread of Italy

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Typical Durum wheat bread from Calabria, produced by Giovanna Latella and Terresa Zagari at the Latella Panificio in Pellegrina, Calabria

To say that bread is an important part of day-to-day life in Italy would be an understatement.  In fact, it’s more likely that the Italian political and economic system will be reformed over the next couple of years than it is that Italians will change their longstanding relationship with pane or bread.   Most modern Italians still buy artisanal bread and the small amount of pre-packaged/sliced bread purchased in northern cities is still considered a novelty.  Bread is also very expensive in Italy due to high flour prices and the dwindling numbers of Panificios or bakeries.

Latella Panificioin Pellegrina, Calabria fired by olive wood and made with grano

The Panificio is at the heart of the typical Italian’s relationship with bread. And most Panificio’s in Italy produce various types of pani; including, 1. regional and/or 2., national bread varieties that are made everywhere from Toscana to Calabria.  In Calabria, for example, most Panificio’s produce:

typical durum wheat bread from Calabria - notice the texture in the bread

special order panini for a local festival)

  • Pizza
  • Panini (soft bread used for making sandwiches)
  • Focaccia
  • Pane di Matera (a durum wheat product)
  • Friselle
  • Pane di Castagne
  • Pane comune

My beloved Zias Giovanna and Teressa operate their own artisinal, olive wood fired, Panificio in Calabria and they produce many of the breads mentioned above. The Zias produce Pane di Grano or “the bread of grains” – a specially selected durum wheat traditionally used in Calabrian bread making.  As the SunnyLand Mills web site points out:

Photo above: one of the large mixers used for some production, not all)In southern Italy, where grains have been cultivated since the 5th century B.C., Grano originated in early cooking as a simple, nutritious and flavorful meal prior to the invention of pasta. While Grano has a long history, until recently it was not known outside of specific regions in Italy. American chefs are now realizing the variety, whole-grain goodness, flavor and simplicity of Grano

Panificio’s are still abundant in the South but in the more cosmopolitan North there is a shortage of qualified bread makers, so much so that the national government offers incentives for citizens to become bread makers and set up Panificio’s.

I’ve always been critical of American bread and it’s a claim I still stand behind.  While there are high quality bread shops in large cities (like Sullivan Street Bakery in NY and Balthazar’s in NJ), most bread being sold and eaten in the US is of inferior quality.  I mention the following not just as a critic but as a signal to demand a bit more from the bread you consume; who knows the realization may even inspire you to produce your own artisan bread, just like our good friend Dr. K!

Zia Teressa working the dough at the Latella Panificio in Pellegrina, Calabria

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003080586307 Patricia Keller Nelson

    I still love to make my own bread although I don’t have the luxury of a wood-fired oven. Is there an Italian bread recipe on your site?

  • Chef Doogie

    My blessed wife is becoming quite the baker, her breads are constantly getting better, I am so lucky! This is a beautiful article and pictures, thank you…..CD

  • nonnacarm

    great article Vincent, bread is such an integral part of Italian meals!! and I love the pictures!!