Antico Mulino della Torre was all the raves from our Italy Untours Guides before we even settled into our self-catering apartment near Spoleto. Everything they said about the bakery excited our senses – the sudden fragrance of fresh baked bread, the warmth reminiscent of grandma’s kitchen, and the mouth watering taste of a fresh pastry.
But finding this little niche was not so quick and easy. The back roads behind our little home away from home were lined with ruts, no signposts and just the vague reference to the location of the bakery, “just behind us on that back road”. After a couple of morning expeditions along lush fields of fava beans and poppies, we spied the sign at the end of one of the roads advertising Homemade Bread in Italian.
The bakery was tucked further back into the driveway next to a residence and smaller than expected. The entry was barely large enough for a sparsely filled showcase of baked goods. But it was warm and cozy inside and the aroma of fresh bread and pastry more than fulfilled our expectant senses.
“Buon Giorno”, a voice called out as a woman appeared in in the doorway to a back room.Our broken Italian, taken by surprise, brought a smile to her face that I would treasure long after our visit. Maurizia apologized for the lack of selection, letting us know that by 8 or 9:00 a.m., not much was left to sell to the locals who stop in. Much of their production is trucked out of the yard much earlier in the day to stores and other bakeries. Maurizia pointed to the photo on the wall of the stone grinding machine built in 1092 (that’s not a typo); Maurizia wrote the date on a napkin and proudly explained, “we use still today.”
Her English was timid, and my Italian was sloppy, but we could both make ourselves understood. She stole my heart, and enthused over my hidden agenda— to take action shots of the bread being baked in their stone ovens, the earmark of professional bread and the perfection for which an avid pizza lover would be looking. Happy that I asked, her hug reminded me of clothesline fresh laundry. It was during the next visit at 9:30 p.m. that I found telltale bags of “O” and “00” flour in the enormous back workroom and the chance to find out the secrets of their use from Maestro Leon himself who had been hard at work hours before starting the ovens and baking the loaves. By the time we got in, it was hot back there!
“A legna” refers to the three giant stone ovens that burn rounds of grapevines and olive branches. Leon prepares the loaves of bread that sit in the warm kitchen on muslin wrapped canvas racks three hours before baking. The baking equipment almost touched the high ceiling as it emptied dough into another processor.
Completely swathed in white, Leon matched the 200 or more white loaves dutifully rising side by side. They won’t hit the ovens until after midnight when the pastries and smaller Panini breads are made. Leon’s day ends about 5:00 a.m. Maurizia practically lived in the bakery with her home right next door. We became fast friends immediately, and had many a friendly chat during our stay in the community. Rarely, today, can I look at Italian bread without remembering by dear friend.
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