The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

We are back from Italy - A bread/foodie report

dmsnyder's picture

We are back from Italy - A bread/foodie report

Susan and I have just returned from two weeks in Italy. We spent a week in Venice, a couple days in Lucca and 4 days in Liguria. We broke up our return trip with an overnight stay in Milan. I am happy to report that the bread we had was much superior to that of our last visit to Amelia-Romagna and Tuscany  three years ago. 

The bread we were served in restaurants was almost always made wholly with white flour.

Once, we had some bread that, from its color, I think had some durum flour in the mix. I did see a loaf called “Pane Altamura” in a bakery we walked into in Milan, and I saw “Pane Integrale” on another bakery’s list of its breads in Levanto (Liguria), but we didn’t taste any of those.  

 Industrially-produced bread was displayed in supermarkets, but so was a wider variety of flours for both bread and pizza-making. This was what I found in the largest grocery in Venice.

 There was a profusion of small, artisinal bakeries in all the towns we visited, as well as small produce markets, fish mongers, butchers and gelaterias.

My sense is that this was typical of small towns in Italy. I suspect it is less true in big cities, but even there, the neighborhood bakery is commonly encountered, at least everywhere I have been. 

 Pizza was originally associated with Naples and was unheard of in Northern Italy. Them days is gone forever. It is seen now on the menus of most restaurants except perhaps the spiffiest, but we didn’t go to any of those. Interestingly, in many restaurants, pizza is only served at dinner time. I wonder if this is related to a culture in which, at one time, the big meal of the day was served mid-day, not in the evening. I had low expectations of the pizza in the North, but was pleasantly surprised. It was pretty good in Lucca, although it was much, much better in Liguria. The typical local pizza was thin crusted. Most was baked in wood-fired ovens, but not all.

We most enjoyed what was most often called “Pizza vegetariana.”

This had some tomato sauce, cheese and slices of zucchini and eggplant. Some also had bell pepper. So, pizza was pretty ubiquitous.

I was not happy to find American fast food restaurants in the larger cities (Venice, Milan). I was a bit happier to see hamburgers on the menus of some restaurants and a bit happier yet to see “Pane da hamburger” displayed in a bakery window in Lucca. They looked pretty good, too.

 The specialties of the Ligurian coast are fish - especially anchovies -, pasta with shellfish and pasta or gnocchi with pesto. We ate very well. In the USA, when you say “anchovy,” people think of the salted anchovies most often used on pizza. In Liguria, the anchovy is called “The princess of the sea” and is prepared numerous ways - fried, “pickled” in lemon juice like ceviche, in a pasta sauce … I know I’ve forgotten some of the ways we saw anchovies prepared, and I’m certain there are others we didn’t encounter at all. 

Anchovies with potatoes, tomatoes and olives


Fried Anchovies


Taglierini verde with crab

We had a terrific time! I’ve focused here on the food, particularly bread and its “relatives,” but the areas we visited in Italy this trip were visually stunning. The art we saw was fabulous. And the people we encountered were delightful. I’m eager to return.





isand66's picture

How luck you are!  What a fantastic trip it sounds like you had.  I'm very jealous as I've yet had a chance to travel to Italy.  Thanks for the travelogue David.

So where was the picture of the opening display of bread taken?

dmsnyder's picture

Italy is a diverse country with a very long and complex history. I have so far visited a small part of it.

The bread in the first photo was the window display of the little bakery about half a block from the B&B in which we stayed in Levanto, which is the first village North of the "Cinque Terre." We bought some cookies there and some ciabatta-type rolls. The rolls were super, but very white. Their specialty seemed to be miniature tarts, but we didn't try those.


dabrownman's picture

Italian - ordering bread at a bakery:-)  Now you can ask for their special recipe's!  White bread doesn't sound too enticing but your first photo show there is something more out there somewhere.  Was there any sourdough? Glad you had a good time and I bet the Italian is better too.

dmsnyder's picture

There was soudough bread in bakeries. The only sourdough we ate was pizza crust, AFAIK. The pizza crusts we had, by the way, were consistantly good flavored. Not a sheet of cardboard in the bunch.

My wife is less inhibited than I in using her Italian. She was complimented on it several times. It was amusing that several people seemed mystified why we were studying Italian, not being born in Italy nor of Italian decent.


David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Two weeks is a great length of time to be away, and I am sure it is good to be back home.  I have never taken a bread-themed vacation, and somehow, I don't see one in my immediate future, but it looks like a wonderfully relaxing way to spend the time.

dmsnyder's picture

The vacation was by no means "bread themed." My little report was bread themed only because this is a baking themed forum. I have other material and photos on other themes of interest to me, e.g., calligraphy, that I may post on other sites.


CAphyl's picture

Love all the photos of the food and bread.  I will have to do a better job of bread and food photos when I am traveling!  My husband and I were in Italy last year, and the food was great, totally agree with you. The scenery is stunning as well.  Welcome home and thanks for sharing.  Best,  Phyllis

dmsnyder's picture

I deny any special photographic skill or knowledge. The food and the scenery are very photogenic.

I made linguine with shrimp in an arrabiata sauce for dinner last night. It was okay, but previously frozen shrimp caught 3000 miles away can't compare with shrimp caught a mile away a few hours before. <sigh>


golgi70's picture

Must have been a blast.  If and when I get to Europe Italy is on the top of the list.  Hopefully with a stop in France and then Amsterdam.  But Italy first.  


dmsnyder's picture

My wife made the comment that we have enjoyed all our trips to Europe. Each has had high points. This trip, every day was a high point. 

When you get to Italy and France, you are most likely to find the kinds of breads I think you like in the smaller towns. There is a reason Daniel Leader, in Local Breads, gave very little attention to big cities anywhere. These days, the most amazing breads are at the Village Bakery. That said, at least in Paris, you would enjoy sampling Pain Poilâne, Eric Kayser's multigrain, Gosselin's baguette tradition .... well, Paris is an unique case.  Hmmmm .... I gotta go back there real soon. 

In Amsterdam, and also in Belgium, the bread I enjoyed the most was some sort of slightly sweet, partly whole wheat bread made both as rolls and as pan loaves. It was served everywhere. I would love to have a formula for it. And, since beer is just "liquid bread," the beer in Belgium is truly worth the journey. And the chocolate ... And the fish .... If you enjoy fish, North Sea Sole is one of the planet's great foods. 

I better stop now.