What are the most famous types of Italian bread? And when did bread-making start in Italy?
Yes, ancient Egyptians were to first to make bread, which had very specific spiritual and religious connotations. However, it was the ancient Romans who founded the first bakeries.
Bread Making in Italy: A Long History
At the end of the Roman Republic, people were eating bread every day. Plinius wrote that bread baking started around 168 B.C., by Macedonian slaves. Around the third century A.D., the "Eternal City" featured over 254 bakeries and shops selling bread.
Which Italian bread types did they make in ancient Rome? Plinius writes about "panis streptipicius", perhaps a forefather of pizza. The ingredients were flour, water, milk, oil, suet and black pepper, and they shaped it in thin sheets and baked very quickly. We also know about a thin pastry-like baked product which was very popular as a starter; a bread roll with a filling of lard and pancetta; and finally bread eaten by soldiers in their camps.
But there were so many other Italian bread types, all special and delicious in their own way. As we can tell by their Latin names, these breads reflected a very specific social organisation.
But what are some modern types of bread?
Ciabatta is a white bread originally produced in Liguria and made with wheat flour and yeast. Its shape usually is long, wide, and flat and with a slight depression in the centre. This is a soft, light bread with a lot of air pockets and a crunchy crust. There are a large number of different varieties throughout Italy.
Focaccia is related to the famous pizza. It is a flat-ish white bread, really delicious thanks to olive oil and fine herbs that give it flavours, such as rosemary, and coarse sea salt. It is considered a delicacy of Ligurian gastronomy.
Schiacciata is also a flat white bread but in this case from Tuscany. Like our previous bread, olive oil and coarse salt are added to its surface, and it is typical to make circular marks with your fingers that will be its characteristic holes.
Grissini, originally from Turin and Piedmont. Bakers separate loaves in irregular sticks shapes, as thin as a pencil. Grissini's origin dates back to the seventeenth century, and it is common to see them on restaurant tables to dip in olive oil, to wrap around prosciutto or dunk in stews.
Farinata, originally from Liguria, is also a flatbread. What makes it special is that the dough's ingredients are water, oil, and chickpea flour. It is topped with black pepper, coarse salt, and rosemary, forming a crunchy crust. There are many versions of farinata across all the regions of Italy and with many different names.
Its name literally translates into “Tuscan bread”. This beautiful bread is a regional speciality of Tuscany. A large round, springy bread that is similar to a white loaf, but much flatter. Traditionally, they bake pane Toscano in a wood-fired oven giving it a unique flavour, and it’s great for mopping up a Tuscan soup or stew!