Pane di Matera
Updated: Jun 7, 2018
Italy is famous for food. In fact, many might argue that the Italians proudly reign supreme where matters of gastronomy are concerned. One staple part of any diet is, of course, bread and Italy has such an incredible variety of this, the most simple of foods.
Every region you'll visit in Italy will see you indulging in their local bread. The recipes and techniques which are used often tell us a lot about a regions culture and history. For instance, the Florentines and Tuscans eat bread that is made without any salt at all because centuries ago there was a tax on salt in that region, and so, the canny Italians at that time decided to make their bread without it, so as to avoid paying yet another tax.
When you come to Matera, the importance and history of bread is no different. Here, 'pane di Matera' (literally 'bread of Matera') also has a wonderful history which dates back to ancient times.
The shape of 'pane di Matera' is not by accident. If you visit the Sassi di Matera and gaze out across the 'murgia' you'll notice that the rolling hills, caves and rocks resemble the fascinating shape that 'pane di Matera' is formed into. Furthermore, the ingredients are all locally sourced from surrounding wheat fields and of course the local water supplied in the Sassi's great cisterns. Using 100% locally sourced milled semolina grain, known as 'Senatore Cappelli', the bread dough is fermented for a long period in clay cisterns before it is then baked. It is a traditional technique that has been continued throughout the generations and it is a procedure that is protected by Italy's 'I.G.P.' - a body that protects Italian recipes and food preparation techniques. Yes - Italians literally have a governmental body for these things, they are THAT important to them.
For centuries until the 1950s evacuation of the Sassi di Matera (that's another story for another blog post), the local people in Matera would share a range of wood ovens to bake their bread in. One fascinating little bit of historical culture emerged from the need to identify whose bread belonged to who. So, the local shepherds, who would travel throughout Basilicata, would make the local families each a wooden bread stamp that included an initial or design that would allow them to mark their bread. Today travellers can buy these as souvenirs and they serve for a fascinating historical anecdote when you return home and tell your tales of Matera and Basilicata.
Of course, this being Italy, there are obviously numerous recipes that the people of Matera have developed using their world famous bread. When the bread is slightly old and starting to go hard, one of the most famous dishes Materans create is called 'cialledda', which has both a hot and cold version. Traditionally the hot version is a mixture of egg, bay leaves, garlic and olives and the cold version is simply moist bread (yes you actually revive the old bread with cold water) with tomatoes and garlic. However, every Materan you speak to will you tell of you a slightly different version of this local classic, each claiming that their Grandmother used to do the best one. In fact, there are often wildly different versions of this dish, such as one where you take the moist bread, chop up some fresh oranges, add peperoni cruschi, some garlic, some extra virgin olive oil and a touch of salt. It may sound completely crazy, but it is utterly divine and a great treat during the orange season months of December, January and February.
Another popular dish, which you can try during your La Lucana experience, is called 'Pane cotto'. It literally means 'cooked bread' and it is a hot dish served with a local green vegetable that grows specifically in this region. Many Materans have told us that Marisa makes the best one of these! :)
So there you have it. 'Pane di Matera'. Yet another example of the philosophy of simplicity that you'll find us talking a lot about throughout this blog. We really hope you get to try it some day and we're sure that you'll love it as much as the Materans do.
To finish, check out this video of Materan bakers baking this bread through the night...;)