This week I nearly reached a nervous breakdown. No time to breathe…no time for a cup of coffee… no time to meditate. Despite such a stressful and fast paced week, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to go to Milan last Saturday. The event was organized by Radio Popolare and Sovversivi Del Gusto, hence called POPOGUSTO. 5:30 a.m. came too quickly Saturday morning, but once I got there I slooowed down by tasting traditional and old time food in a historic old theater called Teatro Litta di Milano.

Sticking to the basics, I tasted raw goat’s milk cheese (both hard and soft), extra-virgin olive oil from Puglia, organic wines, and old style bread. Of course there was also the other basic food staple (salumi) which I tended to ignore. However, I did find the “cappello del prete” (priest’s hat) (a kind of cotechino made from pig) intriguing because of its namesake triangular hat shape. It is covered in the skin which is sewn on by hand.  I even tasted homemade artisanal Pastis, a typical aperitif in Piedmont and France made by two young entrepreneurs.
The product that stood out the most was the bread from Panificio Grazioli. I swear that everyone I saw come in that day, came out with a bag of that bread. It is something so simple, yet so satisfying. When you taste this old style bread, it makes you realize that what we eat now, maybe shouldn’t even be considered bread!
The owner/baker Massimo, charismatically drew me in, giving me tastes of everything from traditional “castagnata” to a cake made from a 17th century recipe! What got my attention the most, was a type of bread version of a panettone, whole grain flour packed with figs, dried apricots, and a variety of nuts. This would have normally been my last choice, but there was something special about this bread. Maybe it is the natural ingredients or just the love and passion Massimo puts into it… and you can taste it.
As I have previously written about with wine, he taught me that bread and its yeasts are livingthey need their time and space. We can not force bread to “grow up” quickly but we must nurture them as they “rise”. Massimo’s father had a panetteria and basically forced him to take up this craft too. But Massimo felt something inside that pushed him to do something different, to stop aiming towards quantity and strive for quality. As soon as his father passed away, he decided to carry on the family tradition but in his own way. He tells me that he speaks to the natural yeasts, and explains the necessity of using “natural” ones instead of industrial brewer’s yeast. Natural yeasts give the bread the correct acidity which continues to evolve, while brewer’s yeast is flat and dies. By going back to the original bread making methods, we can rediscover the natural rhythm of life that we have so quickly forgotten.
From there, we got into a heart to heart conversation about life, and although I don’t remember what we strayed off about, I do remember his closing words of wisdom, that “life without pain is poor”. This brought me right back into the correct mindset … and it was all through bread.
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