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Saturday's Pagnotta

If you've been with us for a bit of time now you will have gathered two things about ViaMedina, among perhaps a few others: first, that we think Tuscania is a pretty swell town and second, we really like bread

aperto

Naturally then when both of these things combine to form one perfect moment we cannot but rejoice, and indeed Saturdays in Tuscania are meant for exactly that. Because Saturdays are when this unassuming forno (oven) on the Via Roma in Tuscania prepares their very own pagnotta, a rustic bread made from a wild yeast mother that is one of the most time honored traditions in Central Italian cuisine. 

via roma

The forno is a simple place inside and out, and from the photo the size of it should be clear. And while they do make a number of fine breads and baked goods throughout the week, theirs is a presence among many others in a town where bread is a prerequisite for just about any form of consumption throughout the course of the day. Nothing happens without bread. 

forno

The forno has been using the same wild yeast starter (or mother) for anywhere between "ten and seventy years" according to the most precise data I was able to gather during successive visits. Because there is only the one starter that needs to be maintained, pagnotta is only available once a week and is best secured by advance order. The system is simple yet effective: go over on Friday and reserve a bag with your name and the number of breads you'll need, and then collect said bag on Saturday morning before lunchtime. 

name on bag

I know, it doesn't look like all that much. Indeed, it isn't all that much and if simple pleasures aren't your thing, perhaps it's all going to be a bit anticlimactic. But if you've ever walked past a bakery in its smallest hours when the sun is still hiding and felt those first smells course through your body, you might know what a pleasure a nice bit of bread can be. And this bread does not disappoint, ever. 

bread crust

The crust is absurdly golden and forms a shell of almost military force around an impossibly soft center, and the taste is so subtly sour so as to remind you of the generations of hands that would have worked from the same mix. It is, in a word, maternal. 

inside of the bread

I suppose it's no wonder they call it a mother; cutting through the bread requires both force and finesse so as to crack the outer crust yet leave the tender middle intact. And yes, this is a real description of a real loaf of bread. 

slices of bread

With such a delicacy on hand, Saturdays become a sacred day dedicated to pursuing and indeed perfecting, the art of the Sandwich. We'll probably have to deal with this in greater detail at some point, because the sandwich is one of the most important foodstuffs and is deserving of its own discussion. For the moment, let's just say that there's a reason we ask our friends to bring us Colman's mustard powder from England, and that reason is for sandwiches like these. 

mustard

It's like a week in review: the roasted chicken from the Friday  market and the lettuce grown by Nikki and Tiziano in their garden combined with the tomatoes and cucumbers that our local grocer had from her own patch all find their way into the mix. 

sandwich

You guys I've said it before and I'll say it again. Bread matters. 

half sammy