This time Stefano Tesi takes the stand.
It’s crumbly but firm, replete with unusual aromas, looks compact but has a crumb with ashy hues, and a thick, cracked, floury crust whose color is quite inviting. A slice in the hand feels firm, while the loaf resists the knife. In short, it makes me want to squeeze it to release the rich aromas I remember from bakeries long ago.
We’re talking about bread, obviously.
Of an unusual bread, however. First of all because of the ingredients, but also because of the story behind it. And for it’s innovative “social compact,” which is disarmingly simple and makes it all work. Actually, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s a real bread one can eat, it would almost seem to be a project for a utopic bread.
But instead, no.
I tasted it the other day at Montespertoli, in the heart of the Florentine countryside, where, on the occasion of the local Mostra del Chianti, Vetrina Toscana and Unioncamere had asked me to present two of the products slated for promotion, excellent Tuscan foods prepared in small volumes, what one could call niche products. One was Lucardo’s Pecorino, which I will speak of shortly, and the other was a Pane di Grani Antichi, Bread from heirloom grains.
It’s what the baker who makes it, Marco Panchetti, calls it.
The name sums it up: It’s a bread made from flours from a variety of grains that largely disappeared with the arrival of hybrid seeds and industrial baking in the 20s. Unusual grains, that differ considerably from those of today, with very high shoots of the kind we see in Flemish paintings or those of the Macchiaioli, which are harvested with a sickle, and have odd names: Verna, Frassineto, Abbondanza, Iervicella and so on. But all extremely nutritious (with abundant vitamins, antioxidants and fiber) and poor in gluten.
The beginning was empirical; Marco says he wanted to make the “best bread possible” for his daughter, and experimented with microlots of grain from “custodian farmers,” volunteers who make it their business to preserve Tuscany’s heirloom grains, milling, and the production of just a few loaves, enough for home use. Then came contacts with the University, with the enthusiastic artisans and the professors sharing suspicious glances, and finally a codification of method and component flours.
But this isn’t the most interesting aspect of the bread.
“My bread is the fruit of a ridged, self-imposed production code,” says Marco. “No bureaucracy, no stamps, no authorities. We trust each other. I supply the farmers with seeds, they raise the grain, and I buy it, paying them handsomely – often twice the going rate – which is enough to compensate them for their work and balance the effects of lesser yields.” Cultivation? Organic, literally, and once again Marco says, “no certificates or inspections: the farmers agree not to add anything to the crops, simply following good farming practices, I believe them, they don’t delude me, and we move forward.” Classic organic, in short. “These grains are very different from those of today,” he says, “with stems that grow much too high for other plants to grow beneath them.” In other words, they are self-weeding, and have no need of chemical protection.
“My friend Gianni of the Molino Paciscopi at Montespertoli, stone mills all the grain; it takes him twice as long, but he is happy to be justly compensated. And I provide the bread to retailers at a price that allows them to price it just slightly higher than normal bread: 3 euros per kilo in the shops in Montespertoli and 3.50 out of town.”
The setup works. Daily production of the bread from heirloom grains is about 100 k (225 pounds), and it is sold at the Coop di Montespertoli, the Cooperativa Agricola di Legnaia and, in Florence, at the Enoteca-panetteria Gambi, near Porta Romana, and at the Sant’Ambrogio Formaggi booth in the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio.
Forget about Internet and such. Marco can only be reached via landline, and preferably in the wee hours of the night (“that’s when I work”). His miller friend, Gianni, has a Molino Paciscopi page on Facebook.
But one really must taste.