Bread and Matera

Written by Katie Parla on April 22, 2008

The province of Matera, and Basilicata in general, is a major producer or durum wheat, used to make bread with a hard crusty exterior and soft, spongy interior. It is almost identical to pane di Altamura, bread produced just across the border in Puglia, which holds the prestegious DOP seal of quality and tradition. On our second day in Matera, we set an alarm for 5:30 am, intending to wake up in time to see bread being made at a local bakery. What we soon learned is that by that time, all the bread has already been baked and is on its way out to stores, restaurants, and hotels. All we found were exhausted, sweaty bakers sweeping flour off the floors of their workspace.

We were determined to see bread produced so we made an appointment to return to one such bakery, Pane&Pace, at midnight, when the bread making process begins. Matera is a quiet place at night so we encounter few people out on the streets at such a late hour, just a few bakers hauling thin olive branches into their shops to feed their wood burning brick ovens.  When we got to Pane&Pace, we found the main baker hard at work, cutting 1.2 kg hunks of dough with machinelike precision from a giant blob on a stainless steel table. He explained that 1.2 kg of dough loses most of its water while baking, resulting in loaves weighing 1 kg each. He must have cut 500 loaves in the 30 minutes were were there.  His assistants swept up and prepared the dough for the hundreds of loaves to come.

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