Umbria’s Bread: Goodness of the Wood-burning Oven
The crusty bread of central Italy is made without salt – and for me, enhances the savory tastes of our prosciutto and pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheeses (both salty).
Peppe, proud of his prosciutti
Peppe with his saltless bread and homemade salami (salty!) and sheep’s milk cheese (salty!)
The most prevalent theory (without historical foundation) is the 16th-c Guerra del Sale (“Salt War”) in Perugia, under Papal yoke: present-day Umbria, the Marches, Latium, Abruzzo and a part of Emilia Romagna were all Papal States. To increase Papal income, the Farnese Pope Paul III levied a heavy tax on salt. As salt was an essential preservative in foods, it could be eliminated only in bread.
Nowadays, few of our farm women neighbors make bread in their outdoor bread ovens – as they all did in the 1970’s when we farmed. Once a week, they would come down the steps leading from the farm kitchen balancing on their heads wooden boards topped with loaves of bread.
The outdoor stone bread oven had been fired up with kindling and was ready to receive the loaves.
You can still see them outside the farmhouses, perhaps rarely used now for baking breads, though used for roasting geese and other meats at times.
A farm neighbor’s outdoor wood-burning bread oven, made by Pino!
Olga shows how she’d slide the loaves into that bread oven
Peppa and her outdoor bread oven
Chiarina with the broom (made of broom!) which is used to sweep out the ashes after the wood-burning oven is hot
Peppa now bakes bread in her indoor wood-burning stove
Gentile slices her homemade bread
Chiarina offers guests a taste of bruschetta, made with her bread and topped with the family’s olive oil
Whatever its origins, our bread without salt is the welcoming taste of Umbria.
Read more about bread in rural traditions
Read about Peppa’s bread salad