The Tuscan bread and the tradition of Casentino

The Tuscan bread is the bread that we normally have on our tables in all the land of Arezzo. It is a unique kind of bread, rigorously unsalted. It is perfect to match, with its flavour and delicacy, rich dishes in flavours between cheeses, cold cuts, meats and wild game meats.

First among all the traditional Casentino breads there is the bread of Rimbocchi. In this little hamlet in Casentino Vallesanta,(less than 60 souls live here), a delicious bread is made. Every Summer it is celebrated as it deserves with the historical Bread of Rimbocchi Festival on the 3rd and 4th of August, a very popular festival in all the Casentino valley which is able to summon both local gourmets and travelers.

The Casentino bread and ancient mills

The Casentino tradition of producing bread has on its side an unparalleled ally, the water that flows down from the creeks of the more ancient forests in Europe in the very heart of the park of the Foreste Casentinesi di Monte Falterona e Penna. The Casentino is the valley of mountain mills in Arezzo.

Along the route of Via dei Mulini del Casentino we can find again this millenarian tradition which safeguards the memories of this valley. Past and present come together between the wise hands of the miller craftsmen who still today transformed wheat into flour.

Departing from the aquatic didactic pole inside the hydroelectric central “la Nussa” in the municipality of Capolona starts an adventure that touches the Mulin di Bucchio in Stia, property of the Bucchi family for centuries, the Molino Grifoni of the Grifoni family in the little village of Pagliericco in Castel San Niccolò, the Mulino di Morino in Raggiolo in the hands of the Giorgini family, the Mulino di Bonano in Salutio and the Mulino di Castel Focognano guarded by the Bardelli family.

Casentino water mills
Casentino is a land of rivers and streams and for this reason there are many water mills in the area.

 

Why is a bread so special?

In the bakeries and stores of Arezzo the Tuscan bread is the master. In the house of Arezzo it is always on the tables. We can have it with butter and jam at breakfast, with ham and pecorino cheese at lunch, with roasted meat at dinner and with wine and sugar as an afternoon snack.

The Tuscan bread is unique because it is unsalted with a golden and crunchy crust and a white, porous, compact crumb. The leavening is natural and the taste is unique as its smells recall the one of toasted hazelnuts. The bread wafts the scent of wheat, which never grows old. Even if it is unsalted, its taste is not bland but full of character.

So, what really does make the difference? It is the soft Tuscan wheat flour which manages to keep the wheat germ during the maceration, something that does not happen with ordinary flour. In the Tuscan bread there are no other ingredients, only water and flour and, obviously, the work of wise craftsmen hands that every night have kneaded the same recipe with love for centuries.

In the bakeries of Arezzo the Tuscan bread can be identified at a glance thanks to its oval or round shape. Normally breads are weighing a kilo, half a kilo or a quarter a kilo and their thickness is between five and ten centimeters. It is wonderful to stroll through the streets of Arezzo downtown in the early morning, when the scent of the freshly baked bread is still in the air.

A unique gesture that lasts for days

There is an ingredient that gives its taste and balance between soft and crunchy to the Tuscan bread: it is the base yeast that also make possible the long conservation. It is a slow leavening because doing good things takes the time it takes.

The Tuscan bread is tasty and crumbly even until five days or a week after being taken out of the oven. In the families of Arezzo it is not a coincidence that the controversy is still open between who prefers freshly baked bread and who prefers the previous day’s bread. Our grandparents always said: ” bread of one day, wine of one year”. Today, perhaps we have to agree with them.

The secret for keeping it well is to wind it up in a thick cotton cloth and let it rest in the dark. The ideal thing would be to put it in the ancient bread box, which is a wooden piece of furniture that we can still find in a lot of farming houses in Tuscany.

Homemade tuscan bread
The housewives of the past knead the bread strictly by hand with simple basic gestures to obtain a homogeneous and elastic compound.

From a salt crumb…

Nowadays the Tuscan bread receives the DOP recognition, but what did make it really unique among all the Italian breads? And above all, why is it unsalted? For answering these questions we have to come back to the wars between the maritime Republic of Pisa and Florence in the fourteenth century.

At that time, Pisa suspended the salt trade with the Tuscan backcountry, included Arezzo. Since there was a salt shortage, Florentine families and Tuscan peasants stopped using it. Instead, among historians there are those who argue that it was a choice of Florence in order to release itself from the very high costs of salt, imposed by the opposing Pisa.

This theory does not satisfy totally and we wonder: why when the salt came back on the tables did they keep on not using it for bread preparation? The answer is linked to our cooking which is full of strong flavours that needs, for taste and disposition, to come with an unsalted bread.

There has always been no better match than stewed wild boar and unsalted crunchy bread. What about ham, salami or finocchiona between two big bread slices? Which Tuscan sauce does not deserve to mop up your plate with bread? However, when in Tuscany bread enters the kitchen and turns into a real protagonist with mouthwatering recipes.

The Tuscan bread in recipes of the cooking from Arezzo

In the kitchens in Arezzo, the bread dominates in every season with fresh summertime or soft and enchanting wintertime recipes. The Panzanella never misses on the tables during the hot summer months in Arezzo. It is a fresh bread salad made with raw vegetables, cucumber, onion, tomato and basil leaves. Everything is seasoned with a hint of salt, black pepper, extra virgin olive oil and vinegar.

It is very easy to prepare, but we have to respect old times and practices. We need stale Tuscan bread, better if dried for a couple of weeks. We need to put it to soak in cold water for an hour then crumbled and well wrung out because the panzanella has to be soft but dry. The bread is mixed to all the other ingredients and left to stand in the fridge for an hour. The Summer taste in Arezzo is on the tables.

Bruschettas and crostinis are very popular in all the seasons, from the traditional bruschetta with chopped tomato to the one with Tuscan lard, mushrooms and truffles. In Arezzo, the most popular and loved crostino is the one with liver sauce, called crostino nero. The most delicious between all the bruschettas is the one with black cabbage, garlic and freshly squeezed oil. In wintertime it is worth coming to Arezzo even just to taste it .

In Autumn and Winter the bread is the protagonist of a lot of dishes such as the ribollita, the pappa al pomodoro, and the acquacotta. Dishes of poor and Medieval origins, bread soups where the Tuscan bread is mixed with seasonal vegetables and sometimes with cheese and meat.

The bread story of the Casentino tradition comes to us and it repeats itself as a holy rite, where the power of water helps the man to grind the richly flavored wheats of this land. Thus, the Tuscan flour with the intact wheat germ is born; it is a flour full of taste which will be mixed again to this pure water, blended and kneaded by baker hands. The aroma of the Tuscan bread, in particular the one from Casentino, is recognizable among all the other breads from Arezzo and it is cherished by the palates of all Tuscany.

Ribollita or bread soup
The bread soup or ribollita is one of those poor peasant dishes typical of the Arezzo and Tuscan tradition

La minestra di pane o ribollita è uno di quei piatti poveri contadini tipici della tradizione aretina e toscana.

Find out more:

The way of Mills in Casentino Valley