We want to find out how to make bread – more specifically, Italian bread, and Italians know that Altamura bread is one of the best in the country. Do you like bread? We do. That’s why we’re in Altamura to discover Pugliese bread. They use only local bread flour to bake their fragrant artisan bread. Can you smell it?

Today we’re in Altamura. I am Beppe di Gesu’, a bread maker in Altamura. Today we’ll see the process of making Altamura bread, which is a product of protected origin. The grain harvest ended in June, so what we see here is just straw. Let’s go and see how bread is made in Altamura.

Here’s our yellow gold! This is the gold of our territory. A mountain of wheat like this means strong emotions for the people of our territory. We make our Altamura bread from this grain. With this quantity, we could provide enough bread not just for the whole of Puglia but for the whole of Italy! This is durum wheat, which we’ll take to be milled, where it will gradually become ground Altamura semolina. The most important thing is that we only use local wheat when we produce our bread. We use four different types – simeto, appulo, duilio and arcangelo. This is simeto, a locally-indigenous durum wheat, and the one that grows best in this area.

As the wheat is cleaned it is then whetted, and it takes a few hours to sterilize it. After that, this is the result – cleaned and whetted wheat, ready to be milled. This is the same wheat. This is called “B1” – the first milling, the first break. The wheat goes through the mill in a long process.

This is the resulting semolina. This is some wonderful semolina. We’ll use this to make our Altamura bread.

Here we are on the operations level of the mill. It’s called the operations level because we have semolina at different stages of the milling process, such as semi-finished semolina or grain that needs to be re-milled. The different tube angles you see here are all the result of careful study. Nothing is left to chance. 

The semolina is ready.

This is the heart of our Altamura bread. The so-called mother yeast is made from local grain and local flour. We do not use any kind of induced leavening, be it natural or chemical. It’s about 80 years old. Within this dough, there are many microorganisms, which we call yeast and lactic acid bacteria. These will ferment the bread, make it rise, and give our bread its unique aroma and flavour.

It’s constantly regenerated. We take our mother yeast and put it in our kneading machine, add our re-milled durum wheat semolina, and water from our local aqueduct. This is a “refreshing” procedure for the yeast, which we repeat three times at intervals of approximately three hours. This is how we obtain the mother yeast that we will use for the final dough mixture.

Here you can see a final dough mixture. From the moment in which we create our mother yeast to the moment that we take our bread out of the oven, approximately 16 hours will have passed. 

We’re now going to shape the dough.

We divide the dough into pieces weighing over 600 grams, so the loaves will weigh half a kilo after they have been baked. We always use Altamura flour when working with the dough – even to dust the tables or to dust our hands. In an hour, we will have divided all 250 kilos of dough into loaves that we will bake in our wood-fired oven. We always cover the dough with a cotton cloth. We leave it under the cloth for 30 minutes, where the dough will rise for a second time.

This photo shows our traditions. In the past, the idea of a bread maker was only connected to the baking of bread, because here in Altamura, families would make their own dough at home. This is one of my grandfather’s delivery boys. He would have gone house to house, delivering bread. Every family would have given the bread maker a stamp to be applied to the dough before it was baked so it could be identified. But there was often confusion over whose bread was whose, because the delivery boys didn’t tend to have an education, and the families would end up going to the bakery to argue and reclaim their bread.

This is our old wood-fired oven. I’m the fifth generation of bakers in my family. This little oven was built by my grandfather, Giuseppe, which led to my father’s master craftsmanship in bread-making, something which he then passed on to me.

The art of our bread-making dates back to 1838.

The oven is circular in shape and has a diameter of over 6 metres. The base is made from a local stone called mazzarro. One of its characteristics is that it maintains a high temperature.

If we were to make 1 kilo loaves of bread, we could fit 300 kilos in this oven.  

The size of the wood we use depends on the role it will play in the oven. Now for example, we’re putting in oak branches with a rather slim shape. This is because our operator, Gianni, has obviously realised that the oven temperature is low. This just takes a few minutes. We only use oak, which is an intentional choice. Firstly, there are many oak trees in this area. Secondly, oak wood maintains a high temperature for a long time compared to other types of wood. Finally, it doesn’t produce any kind of odour, as we use it only when it is completely dry. The wood we buy today we will use in a year’s time. It gives an even bake to our bread, which stays in the oven for approximately an hour and requires a minimum temperature of 250 degrees Celsius.

My grandfather used an axe to chop the wood.

As you can see, the fire has now gone out, and we’re left with the embers, which we move to one side to make space for our dough. This wood-fired oven now has a temperature of over 250 degrees Celsius. It’s a tiring job, as you can see, but the bread that we bake in here will have a distinctive flavour, smell and moistness due to these procedures.

As you’ve seen, Altamura bread is fully worked by hand. The only exception is the preparation of the yeast, where we use long arm kneaders.

Now we’re putting some focaccias in. This will show us what point the oven is at. The first ones are in baking trays, the second batch goes directly onto the base of the oven. These are called focaccia a terra, and they are made with the same ingredients as those in the trays, but they will have a slightly different flavour as the result will be less oily, so they will be a little drier.

This is the typical shape of Altamura bread. It’s called forma alta (high shape), accavallata (piled up), or in our dialect sckuanète. It’s an unusual way of doing it, but it means there’s a bigger soft centre once it’s baked. In fact it’s the soft centre that gives Altamura bread a longer shelf life. The other shape typical of Altamura bread is called bassa (low) or a cappello di prete (priest’s hat). It has a smaller soft centre, so it will have a day less of shelf life compared to the forma alta.

Pasquale puts a sticker on all of our bread. Authentic Altamura bread always has this sticker. This sticker is a guarantee to the consumer that this is genuine Altamura bread, made following specific processes and regulations as recognised by the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies.

Depending on how long the focaccia took to bake, Gianni will determine how long the bread will need to be in the oven for. 

We’ve finished putting the dough in the oven. As you can see, the loaves are all lined up, and protected from the direct heat. Gianni is checking to see how the loaves in the front rows are baking, so he can decide whether the oven should be closed for 55 minutes or 65 minutes. Gianni has now decided that the oven should be closed for 50 minutes, and he begins the procedure to do so. He is preparing some dampened cloths. He has closed everything, and he will now put the dampened cloths around the door to the oven. In a very short time, the oxygen inside the oven will run out and even the embers will go out. This means that the bread will bake at the even temperature that’s inside the oven, which is currently no less than 250 degrees Celsius. This provides a consistent and slow bake for the bread. We will see the results later.

This is the deciding moment. We let the crust dry slightly. It has a golden colour.

We’re preparing the wood that will provide light inside the oven.

Directly from the producer to the consumer! We’re already selling our first loaves. We lay the bread out on a wooden board, where we’ll leave it to cool for at least 2 hours – quite a long cooling time. Let’s see how the bread has turned out. Let’s check the smell. The bubbles. And the crust. It’s really good! Come and visit us at the Di Gesu’ bakery. Buon appetito!

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