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Italians and bread.

The subject of bread got me thinking about this basic food and its almost fundamental role in Italian daily life.

Italians seem to find it difficult to eat food without having some bread, unless of course, said food consists mainly of bread. My father in law literally cannot eat without having fresh bread, and should, perish the thought, he be left almost breadless, he will kick up one heck of a fuss.

Being a thoughtful kind of guy, I wondered where this ‘bread-reliance’ came from. I concluded that it may have come about as a result of the amount of tomatoes used in Italian cooking. Tomatoes can be quite acid and nasty indigestion can be the result of eating too many. Then there is the wine – poor quality wine can be quite acid, again leading to a burning tum. So, add some bread and, possibly, the acidity of the food and drink is reduced. Well, this is my theory, but I am ready to be corrected. And, I should add, Italians do seem to have a quite morbid fascination with their ability to digest food, for some odd reason (For many Italians cold milk is notoriously difficult to digest, apparently (never caused me any problems!)). Food, and drink, for thought.

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Bread in Italy is always pretty fresh, unless you opt for the plastic packets of sliced bread which can be found in most supermarkets, and this freshness means that you really have to eat bread on the day it is bought. The next day it is often solid and stale. The speed with which bread goes off, coupled with the use of the stuff as an accompaniment to food, has led to there being quite a profitable trade in this substance in Italy. Bread, incidentally, is sold by weight, although you can ask for a fixed number of the sometimes bewildering selection of bread rolls that are on offer. The texture of the bread varies immensely too. Some rolls are soft and fluffy on this inside, others are quite dense, and some are even hollow. Then there are the focaccia, for which Genova is so famous, and down in Tuscany the bread is made without salt. Apparently this is because Tuscan cold hams are so salty. There are around, according to one site I found, 350 types of bread in Italy. This is a good indicator of the diversity of Italian culinary culture.

Oh crumbs, I’m sorry, but I can’t really recommend any particular types of bread because I am not a huge bread fan, so I would recommend whoever may be interested simply go out, find a bakers’, be brave and attempt to pronounce the names of the bread or more simply, point, and buy several types of bread. Then you could find a good cheese shop and buy a few different types of cheese (three or four – otherwise you will end up paying an arm and a leg for your cheese). And finally you could spend a fattening evening becoming familiar with all the types of bread there are here, and, at the same time, develop a more in depth knowledge of Italian cheeses (I think, but I could not swear to it, that there may indeed be almost as many different cheeses as there are types of bread).

Final word – butter. It exists here, but it rarely seems to find its way onto bread for some reason. I found this very odd at first, although now I just don’t bother with the stuff. We often have some, generally unsalted, butter lurking in the fridge, but it is more often than not used for cooking.

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