You have to follow the windy road running through thick oak forests with some panoramic spots overlooking the Ionic coast before you reach one of the most beautiful hamlets in the Pollino National Park, Cerchiara di Calabria. The village sits around the ruins of an old castle and has many streams and torrents around which keep many water mills running. Cerchiara has always been famous for its tasty fragrant handcrafted Calabrian bread.
In 2012 it was chosen by the Slow Food movement as the best bread in Italy and became the symbol of Cerchiara. There are eight family-run bakeries in the village; all of them follow the recipes that their grandmothers used for making bread. The ingredients are simple: 60% of good local white flour, 40% of bran, yeast base, and local spring water (everyone says it is the water that makes the bread taste so good!). The dough is left to rest for a few hours. After that the bread-maker skilfully kneads the dough to form rough round loafs that go into the oven. This type of bread is called “pane scanato”, which refers to its half-round rustic shape. Some loafs can weigh up to 12kg!
Strictly wood ovens are used for making the Cerchiara bread. They are heated to 300°C, the embers are then moved aside, the bottom of the oven is cleaned and the bread goes in for a four hours. The bottom of the oven is lined with bricks, which allows slow cooling. This long slow baking process gives the bread its golden colour, texture and taste. The Cerchiara bread stays soft and delicious for up to 15 days.
Each bakery in the village has its own little tricks to give their bread a special subtle flavour. Some of them use beech and oak wood. The Mauro bakery, where I often buy my bread, olive and alder wood with Mediterranean scrub roots are used. Perhaps, that’s what makes it so special. A few weeks ago, the National Institute of Bread Tasters rewarded the Mauro Bakery with title of the Cavalier of Bread. The prestigious Cambero Rosso, the world’s authority on food in Italy, mentions the Mauro Bakery in its Foodies 2014 guide as the place to find good bread.
Like all Cerchiara bread, Mauro’s bread is a family affair and is made with quality assurance label De.C.O. (denominazione comunale di origine), which guarantees the genuine ingredients and good taste. As Antonietta Mauro and her sons Pino and Leonardo told me, there have been cases of “fakes” sold in shops under the honourable name of “pane di Cerchiara”. To get the real deal head to Cerchiara. When the loaves are in the ovens the streets of the village are filled with the fragrance of bread. Is there anything better in this world than the comforting smell of warm freshly-baked bread?
Panificio Mauro, Via Paolo Cappello 79, Cerchiara di Calabria, tel. 0981991420
Photos and text by Stefania Emmanuele