Horace, the great Latin poet of the 1st century BC, while travelling to Brindisi, described the bread of Altamura as “the best by far” and so appetising that “wise travellers carry a load on their shoulders for later”: i.e. a bread for export.
The discovery of Pane di Altamura by the Romans, accustomed to stodgy, indigestible barley bread, soon elevated it to the status of “panis palatinus” on the Emperor’s table. In the Middle Ages, while throughout Europe the common people were obliged by famines, wars and primitive agricultural techniques to eat bread made from barley or from acorns and clay, the people of Altamura ate the best bread by far.
It was a democratic bread, i.e. the same for all, without distinction of class, made exclusively from durum wheat, the finest of all grains. The local bread is portrayed twice on the portal of Frederick II of Swabia’s cathedral.
Even on the panels of the life of Christ on the medieval portal of the Great Church of Altamura, the bread of the pilgrim is depicted in the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, and the bread of the Last Supper on the Eucharistic table.
The thick, golden and brown crust of Pane di Altamura PDO seems reminiscent of the land that produces the good grain from which it is made.
The primordial elements of being are needed to make Pane di Altamura PDO: earth, to provide the best quality durum wheat; water, to knead the flour into dough; air, to trigger the fermentation processes of the natural yeast; and fire, to bake the bread.
What makes this product unique, however, is above all the work and talent of the men and women of Altamura, in selecting and mixing the grains, milling them repeatedly to obtain a special flour, skilfully kneading the dough at length, judging the right amounts of salt, water, yeast and preparation time, and putting it into the oven at just the right temperature and with the right type of firewood, i.e. oak.
Each operation is twofold: the grain is milled twice, the dough is kneaded twice, it is left to rest and rise twice, the oven is opened and closed twice and it is eaten twice: when it is fresh and tastes of biscuit on the outside and panettone on the inside; and when it is old but not hard (it stays soft for up to 10 days) and its flavour is enhanced with a little olive oil, the juice of a tomato or the classic “cialledda” (cold bread salad) of the shepherds.
Some say that what makes Pane di Altamura PDO the best in the world is its close link with the local production of durum wheat, which is used in a re-milled form to make it.
Pane di Altamura PDO can be recognised by the label displaying the operator code and the production company, which should be located in one of the municipalities, specified in the production rules.
The thickness of the crust must be at least 3 mm and the inside of the bread must have uniform air pockets, indicating proper leavening by the natural yeast that is used.
The dough, made from flour, yeast, salt and water, is mixed by a kneader with mechanical arms at a temperature of 18°C for twenty minutes.
The sourdough is obtained with a minimum of three refreshments to increase the fermented dough through the addition of water and durum wheat semolina, in a proportion of 20% to the quantity of re-milled durum wheat flour.
To complete the dough preparation, it is covered with a cotton cloth of a certain thickness so that it rises at an even temperature. At this stage, the dough must rest for at least ninety minutes.
It is then weighed and given an initial shaping by hand, after which it is left to rest for another thirty minutes.
A further manual shaping is then performed, followed by a rest period of at least fifteen minutes.
Before baking, the loaf is turned over and then brought to the oven with light hand pressure applied to one side.
The oven, fired by wood or gas with indirect heat, must reach a temperature of 250°C.
The first stage of the baking is done with the oven open. After fifteen minutes, the oven mouth is closed and it is left to bake for another forty-five minutes.
The oven mouth is normally left open for at least five minutes to allow the steam to escape and thereby facilitate the drying of the crust, which becomes crispy.
The loaves of bread are then removed from the oven and placed on wooden boards or in baskets.
The Local Area
Pane di Altamura DOP is produced solely and exclusively in the production area defined and specified in the production rules.
This area includes the towns of Altamura, Minervino, Poggiorsini, Gravina in Apulia and Spinazzola.
Altamura, the great cereal centre of Apulia, is in the heart of the Murge plateau, a few kilometres from Bari. The raw materials, the bread-making system with natural leavening and the climate give the product a unique fragrance and delightful taste. The production of Pane di Altamura DOP is an art bound to an ancient and noble tradition that has been handed down for generations.
In its round, doughnut shape, Pane di Altamura DOP is known as “piccilatidd, i.e. “piccio” or bread for the whim of a child, who can be placated with something that tastes good.
Curator — Consorzio per la Tutela del Pane di Altamura