Altamura is a small town in the Puglia region, down the heel of the boat. In Italy, Altamura means bread. One of the best bread you can find. It is made from a specific variety of durum wheat
cultivated in the Murge plateau, within the National Park of Alta Murgia, close to the town. It is a DOP product
since 2003. The names of the wheat used, all found within the territory, are a hint to the authenticity of this tradition: Appuro, Arcangelo, Duilio, Simeto
... Even the water used to make this bread must respond to specific characteristics and is certified. As it happens often when tradition meets DOP certification, there is a long set of rules to respect, that have been established to guarantee the originality of this product that has at least a thousand years of history. For example, Altamura bread always weighs at least half a kilo (a bit more than one pound) and has two shapes that are most common: the ‘twisted’ and the ‘shorter’, locally known as ‘a priest’s
hat’. Also, the crust should be dark and at least 3 millimeters thick. Conversely, the crumb should be soft and pale yellow in color with a homogenous porosity, and a unique, characteristic fragrance. The History
Altamura bread was born of customs from distant eras. In fact, this is one of the most important elements of the diet for the people who have lived in the Murgia regions since the Middle Ages at least. Encouraged by the climate and the landscape, the farmers cultivated grains of the highest quality, using their harvest in the preparation of various products.
Until thirty years ago, the dough was prepared at home, sampled by a “bread-carrier
” then, if judged of quality, transported to the communal oven to be baked. Here, bread also received the mark of the household, to be recognized. The loaves were cooked for a fairly long time, initially in a closed oven, then after a certain period, the oven was opened to help the crust dry and become crispy. After baking, the bread cooled on a wooden rack and the bread-carrier returned it, usually in exchange for raw dough that could then be used to prepare bread for his family, but also for other kinds of ingredients, as for instance dried chickpeas. The whole process naturally creates bread that doesn’t become moldy nor stale for more than a week, hence the tradition of making big loaves that would last for several days even in a big family. The traditional recipe
The process of making the bread goes through more than one phase. First, the sourdough
is renewed at least three times, to let it grow in size. This is done by adding water and a durum wheat flour known as ‘semola’, which is less refined than common flour. The dough is then covered with a thick cotton cloth to help it rise at a uniform temperature. There it rests for the first time at least 90 minutes. Next, the dough is weighed and divided into spheres. After resting an extra thirty minutes, there follows the shaping, after which the dough is set aside to rest for an additional fifteen minutes. Before baking, the bread is flipped upside-down
. The oven is wood-fired at about 250°C (485° F). The first part of the baking is done by leaving the oven open. After fifteen minutes, the oven is closed and the bread is cooked for about forty minutes. This allows the inner part to bake uniformly and become very soft. Then, the oven is opened again for the last phase of cooking, lasting a few minutes, which allows the steam to get out, which will help dry out the crust and make it crispy. It is really, really good
Altamura bread is excellent when eaten alone, or drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and salt, or with the addition of cherry tomatoes from the Puglia region, scamorza
cheese, herbs or… Well, there are many traditional recipes employing it. One of our favorite is the savory waffles with tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and olives. Then there’s ‘Sliced Francesca’ (we are still trying to figure out why on earth would you call a dish that way), made with sliced stale DOP Altamura bread, soaked in milk and egg, and enriched with mortadella, cheese, and mozzarella and then baked in an oven. Yummy! The bread can be toasted for sandwiches. There’s also, pancotto
, or bread soup, made with garlic and drizzled with oil and grated pecorino.