Where is Altamura?
Altamura is a town in Puglia lying approximately 45 kilometres (28 miles) southwest of Bari, very close to the border of the region of Basilicata.
What is Altamura famous for?
The town is home to the 130,000 year old calcified 'Altamura Man', discovered in 1993 in a local limestone cave called 'Grotta di Lamalunga'. More importantly, it is famous for its bread!
Known as 'Pane di Altamura' the bread is baked locally and sold in numerous Italian towns and villages.
What is Pane di Altamura made from?
Pane di Altamura is a type of naturally leavened, sourdough type, bread. The bread is made with semola flour milled from locally grown durum wheat.
The natural yeast, or sourdough starter, is a live fermented culture of fresh flour and water. A minimum of three cycles of adding water and durum wheat semola flour is used in order to increase the fermented mass.
The bread dough consists of one measure of the semola flour with 20% of that weight in natural yeast, 2% sea salt and 60% water. The water must be drinkable, sourced locally and be at a temperature of 18°C.
Once the dough is made it must be kneaded for 20 minutes, this is done with a double armed bread kneading machine.
What makes the bread from Altamura so special?
After the dough has been made a very specific routine is then followed to make this famous bread.
- The dough is covered with a cotton cloth of a specific thickness and left for 90 minutes.
- At the end of this time it is weighed out into the correct portions for each loaf, kneaded and roughly shaped. This process is done by hand. It must then rest for another 30 minutes.
- A second shaping then takes place and another resting period lasting a minimum of 15 minutes.
- The bread is baked in wood fired ovens or gas ovens heated to a temperature of 250°C. If wood fired ovens are used they must be fuelled with oak wood.
- The shaped pieces of dough are placed into the oven upside down and cooked for 15 minutes with the oven door open. This process allows the steam to escape and consequently form a better, crispier crust.
- The oven door is then closed and the bread is baked for a further 45 minutes.
- When the bread is finally taken out of the oven it is placed on wooden boards to cool.
Is Pane di Altamura made anywhere else in Italy?
In 2003 Pane di Altamura was granted DOP status within Europe. This means that, by law, certain strict conditions have to be adhered to during production.
The bread has to be made in or around Altamura with a particular variety of durum wheat that has been grown locally. The water must also be local and the production method of the loaves have to be consistent. There are no rules concerning the finished shape of the loaf but there are some traditional shapes that are generally used. The crust however, must be at least 3mm thick.
Has bread always been made in Altamura?
Its origins are closely linked to the farming traditions of the Altamura area. It was kneaded at home by the women and then taken to be cooked in public ovens. Before being baked, each loaf would be branded with the initials of the owner, to avoid confusion later.
It has a long shelf life and lasts between one and two weeks making it the staple food of the shepherds who often spent weeks away from home.
When was the famous bread of Altamura first made?
The first reference to the bread was made in 37 BC by a Latin poet called Orazio. He declared that it was "the best bread in the world" and that every traveller should carry it with them on their journey.