Last week some DOP folks came to San Francisco to educate journalists on some of the unique food products that have been given the DOP or Denominazione di Origine Protetta designation, meaning food products whose origins are identifiable in the taste, texture or “perfume” of the product and produced in a specific region with all ingredients coming from that region.
One of the DOP products they brought for us to chew on was the Pane di Altamura DOP you see in the picture. Delicious. Now I miss Italy even more. Although you can Google “pane di Altamura” and get recipes using ingredients from the US, you don’t get Pane di Altamura, of course, you get Pane Tipo di Altamura, a bread of the type called Altamura. That’s the whole idea behind DOP: The real thing uses yeast, grain, sea salt and water of the region—and that’s what makes it unique. In fact, the specifications are pretty specific about the wheat varieties that can be used: Apulo, Archangelo, Duilio, and Simeto, if you must know.
If there ever was a bread different from the American Standard Wonder Bread, this is it. It’s ancient (bread from around Altamura was mentioned by Horatio in his “Satires” around 37 bc). Pane di Altamura is dense and has a thick crust. Inside the crumb is yellow from the use of semolina (duram) wheat. It lasts a long time without chemical preservatives, at least a week to 15 days.
Pane di Altamura is produced in the northeastern part of the Murgia region of Puglia in the cities of Altamura, Gravina di Puglia, Poggiorsini, Spinazola and Minervino Murge in the province of Bari.
Ok, so that’s more than you wanted to know, isn’t it? Ok, here’s what I really wanted to talk about: Pilgrimage.
After the presentation the American journalists got to talking about whether Italians really care about DOP, and whether they actually looked for the products in a store or went around to buy them at the place of origin. Well, they do.
You see, it’s not just about buying a couple of loaves of bread you’ll eat in a week and then there won’t be any more for a while. You go to Altamura, buy some bread, eat at a restaurant, and then discover something more About Altamura that you didn’t know. Perhaps you will discover something interesting about yourself in the process.
It’s pilgrimage. It’s the best way to travel.
So far, I’ve only done a virtual pilgrimage. You know, I’ve tip-toed through the web. Now I want to go to Altamura. Why? Oh, thank God you asked.
First, Altamura defeated corporate giant McDonalds. They didn’t send some badass farmer to tear the joint down. No blood was shed. People just liked the local chow better, no matter what McDonalds did to attract customers.
McDonald’s began fighting back, offering school trips to visit the kitchens, free rentals of the restaurant for children’s birthday parties, coupons for children and a television for customers to watch soccer. Nothing seemed to work.
“They’d watch the game, and as soon as it was over go out and get focaccia,” Mr. Pepe said.
For history buffs like me, I was interested to find out that Altamura was a stop on the old Appian way, and for the prehistorian there’s the nearby “pit of dinosaurs” which features 3000 dinosaur tracks dated to 70 million years ago. Altamura man is represented a Middle-Lower Paleolithic skeleton found in the cave of Lamalunga. And it’s Puglia, which also has some fine olives and wines and the trulli of course.
So, this spring I feel a pilgrimage to Altamura is in order. I gotta get me some of that pane that trounced McDonalds…and a dose of history.