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Abruzzo Bread Revival, Mercato del Pane


The Mercato del Pane shelves of bread in Montesilvano, Abruzzo
The Mercato del Pane shop in Montesilvano, Abruzzo has one of the best selections of daily artisanal breads that I've seen in Italy

Before describing Mercato del Pane and their Abruzzo Bread Revival, a comment about Italian bread generally through the eyes of a non-Italian, albeit someone who has lived in Italy for a decade.

Italy may be home to the best culinary traditions in the world and is certainly blessed with an enormous variety of locally produced food products, but the bread here can often be bland and lacking in flavor with a crumb that never seems particularly soft even when freshly baked.

Perhaps that's because bread has always had a different purpose in Italy than in the English speaking world. It’s never the centerpiece but always the accompaniment with a different role depending on the food being eaten.


Mercato del Pane shop in Montesilvano, Abruzzo
Much more than just a bread shop, it's an ethos that governs the entire process from the wheat field to the bread on your plate

In most restaurants, especially in Tuscany, if you nibble a piece of the bread that arrives on your table as part of the coperto you will invariably find it dull and a little stale but if you use it to clean up the leftover sauce on a plate of all’amatriciana for example, ie. per fare la scarpetta, regular Italian bread does the job very well.


Mercato del Pane, Montesilvano in Abruzzo
Unusually for a panetteria in Italy, Mercato del Pane is open from 7.00 am until 9.00 pm and offers a huge selection of coffee, drinks, morning pastries and all sorts of baked goodies, pizze and wine for lunch and dinner

You need to appreciate that, unlike a French baguette, most Italian bread just isn't made to be buttered. At home in Italy when your bread is a few days old and has become almost inedible it takes on a new life as one of the key ingredients for ribollita and pappa al pomodoro in winter or panzanella and pane caliatu in summer.

Italians aren’t really sandwich eaters in the same way as the British and North Americans where the texture and flavor of the bread are just as important as the filling; furthermore there is no tradition here of toast for breakfast involving a couple of thick slices of sourdough bread cut from a large loaf.

Of course there are many places in Italy that will sell you a panino for lunch, especially the Autogrill chain when you’re on the road, but a panino is usually made with some type of flatter bread like focaccia or schiacciata (Tuscany) or pizza pane (Abruzzo) or pizza bianca (Rome) or I’m sure any number of other regional variations.


The pizza pane from Mercato del Pane in Abruzzo
Mercato del Pane's pizza pane is as good as any focaccia from Liguria, especially for those who prefer a less oily and less salty version

I love all of these flat bread types but given many of them are made with copious amounts of olive oil and can also be quite salty, they are not really breakfast material despite being perfect at lunchtime.

Forno a Vapore in the centro storico of Lucca
Forno a Vapore in the centro storico of Lucca

I find it interesting that when you look at the Italian reviews for the most famous forno in our city of Lucca, Amedeo Giusti, you’ll find that most of them discuss only the relative merits of the focaccia and nobody makes any mention at all of their regular loaves of bread.

Over the years at one time or another I have tried all of Giusti’s different loaves and for a while I was a regular buyer of their pane pugliese but even that loaf never really thrilled me.


As a result I started to make my own bread at home using the excellent organic ‘macina a pietra’ Italian flour. I typically use a combination of tipo ‘0’, tipo ‘1’ and multicereale fermented with lievito madre (sourdough starter) for additional flavor and complexity. In the four years that I have been baking bread at home I haven’t felt the need to buy a single Italian loaf with the exception of the various types of focaccia and Tuscan schiacciata that I continue to love.


Mercato del Pane shelves of bread in Montesilvano, Abruzzo
The bottom shelf in the Montesilvano shop is full of their best-selling 'Peligno' loaves (incorporating boiled potatoes) that first grabbed my attention

But my recent five week stay in the Abruzzo mountains was something of a bread epiphany for me, first in the local supermarket and then when I came across Mercato del Pane's Abruzzo bread.


Profumo del pane bakery in Sant'Eufemia a Maiella
One of the Maiella mountain bakeries

I quickly became a fan of the local pizza pane and equally quickly became something of an expert because my three local supermarkets around San Valentino in Abruzzo Citeriore all have a different local bakery as the source of their morning bread.

These three bakeries are located in different villages in the Maiella massif and their pizza pane are all excellent but all slightly different, with the main variation being the olive oil and salt content.

But as I've stated above, one can't live on pizza pane alone and it's when I started trying the various loaves of bread on sale at these same supermarkets and enquired about their origin that I discovered Mercato del Pane.


Mercato del Pane is a relatively new enterprise that is doing everything the right way. Their mission is all about reviving traditional Abruzzo bread making, with a strong commitment to the integrity of the entire process. They have created a supply chain of traceable raw materials free of all pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers to ensure that the grains, mostly grown in the Abruzzo mountain foothills, are of the highest quality. The wheat is then milled locally in Carpineto della Nora, close to the Gran Sasso, and this is where the 'macina a pietra' (stone-ground) process becomes important.


Our 3 favorite loaves from Mercato del Pane, brought all the way back to Lucca. Peligno, Vestino and Avena & Noci


Stone grinding takes place at a much lower temperature than mass produced flours where the bran and germ are mostly lost due to the heat of the giant metal rollers. It’s in the bran and the germ that the important minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and fibre are to be found so mass produced flour is therefore mostly indigestible starch and has much less flavor and aroma.

In 2022 Mercato del Pane bought 17 acres of farmland in Abbateggio next door to Col di Gotte and, as their newly acquired land happened to be on one of my cycling routes, I recognized their sign in the fields on my way up to Blockhaus.


Mercato del Pane grain field Abbateggio Abruzzo

Mercato del Pane is a member of the Panificatori Agricoli Urbani (PAU), translated as Urban Agriculture Bakers, an association created in 2018 to promote healthy, genuine bread made from unrefined agricultural flours and traditional cereals that are rich in flavor and more easily digestible. This movement, numbering over 80 fornai from all over Italy, has a complete vision of the supply chain that starts in the field and finishes with the loaf on your table.

PAU has a ten point manifesto that speaks to biodiversity, supply chain integrity, sustainable and resilient agricultural models etc but the most important of these points in my opinion is the often overlooked and very simple commitment they make that "eating bread must be good for you and it must be a pleasure". Amen to that.


Mercato del Pane in Montesilvano, Abruzzo
The atmosphere inside is much more like a coffee shop in the UK or US but with far better food, drinks and service

On the Mercato del Pane website they provide details on 8 of the different Abbruzzesi breads that they make daily, most of which you can see if you look closely at the top photograph in this article. On the bottom shelf from the left are:

Vestino (made from an ancient Abruzzo soft wheat mountain grain called Solina, grano tenoro tipo '2').

Marrucino ( grano duro from another revived ancient grain called Senatore Cappelli)

Multicereale

Segale (rye flour).

Barbarossa (evolutionary population grains that slow down the release of starches, which reduces glycemic peaks and prevents the accumulation of sugar in the blood thereby facilitating the work of insulin).

Pizza Pane, discussed above.

On the top shelf of the first photo are the 100% Integrale and Avena & Noci (oat and walnut) breads.


My sourdough loaf incorporating boiled potatoes using the Peligno recipe


The recipe for the Peligno loaf, which quickly became my favorite because of the long-lasting softness of the crumb, includes boiled potatoes equivalent to 30% of the flour content and the same amount of lievito madre, with the flour being tipo '0'. It has a slow fermentation time of 24 hours and is baked in wood burning oven. At only €3.90 per kilo it's also one of their cheapest loaves.

I now make this Abruzzese bread regularly at home (above photos) and it is probably as close to Mercato del Pane's Peligno as you can get with a regular kitchen oven. I shall have to continue until either we move to Abruzzo or Mercato del Pane opens a shop in Lucca, both unlikely to happen anytime soon.

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