Saturday, March 24, 2012
A perfect day for pane and pecore
Friday, March 23
Pane delle dolomiti is absolutely the best bread we have ever eaten. It has a fresh, nutty flavor and is dense without being too heavy. We know by its brown color that it’s made with bran, but it takes other grains as well. Some types of pane integrale we have tried have tough, thick crusts, but in this bread, the crust is thin, and the inside is rich, moist and bursting with flavor. Molto saporoso! We used to get bread like this in Padova, but it took a long time in Tuscany to find a bakery that made it here.
We found it last winter in Lucca at Panificio-Pasticceria Chifenti. It is only available twice a week, on Tuesday and Saturday, and we learned that we needed to reserve a day or two in advance because it might be sold out by mid-day. This was no problem last year, when we went to Lucca often for language lessons, but now we go less frequently. We have started to order two loaves, putting one in the freezer, since we don’t always know when we can get our next loaf. We recently noticed some printed information on the bag the bread comes in: Chifenti has a sister store in Altopascio, Panificio Gianotti. Altopascio is the first stop when we take the train from San Salvatore to Lucca, so it shouldn’t be too far to bike there. Now that spring has sprung, the weather here is typically around 70 degrees, so off I go to see if Panificio Gianotti will also have our favorite bread in stock tomorrow.
I time my ride for future reference. It takes exactly 16 minutes. Yes, they will have pane delle dolomiti tomorrow, and they will set aside two loaves for signor Spadoni. On the ride back, I decide to take my time and try a different route. Several times while riding the train, we have seen an old man grazing a flock of pecore, sheep, in the fields near Altopascio. “Someday I’m going to get a photo of that,” I think, whenever I see him. Hoping that today might be the day, I ride past a field near the train track, but he is not there. I come to a T in the road where I should go right to get home, but what’s that I see on the left branch? Sheep shit (scusatemi, I couldn’t resist the alliteration), fairly fresh, along with clods of dirt that could have been shaken from sheep hooves. So to the left I go, and within 500 meters, I am rewarded with a picturesque moment—about 50 sheep in a field, a bearded shepherd and a sheep dog.
The sheep are much larger and more multicolored that what I see in America, and many have large curly horns. Il pastore is not really as old as he looks from a distance. He is perhaps in his 50s, and it is probably his scruffy white beard and rugged work clothes that make him appear older. He has no objection to my taking some photos. The sheep stay bunched together as they graze on a rich patch of clover. Some eye me suspiciously as I kneel on the grass, but they quickly go back to their munching. Now I see that one has wandered about 50 feet away from the herd, with his head down, intent on his meal.
“Che cosa fai?” the shepherd calls out. “Vieni qua.” With those words, his dog, who has been exploring the yard across the street, springs into action, running around the other side of the straying sheep and sending it scuttling back to the herd. I remember my own dog, who is part Australian shepherd, and think how happy he would be to have a flock of sheep to boss around. Woof E. loves to follow our chickens and keep them in a group, and if we try to get them in the coop in the evening, he really responds with enthusiasm.
The shepherd says he lives nearby, and his sheep graze on a variety of neighboring pastures. He lets them graze only a short time on each field so they won’t cut the grass too short or cause damage with their hooves. He uses the milk to make pecorino, an exquisite and popular cheese, but some of the sheep are also used for their meat. I ask him if he sells the cheese and meat, and he says no, it is just for family. However, that’s probably the standard answer he gives to stranieri. He must sell to the locals and perhaps give some away to those whose fields he uses more frequently. He asks me if these sheep are like the ones in America, and I tell him that our sheep are different and so are the conditions in which they are raised, usually on very large farms. His sheep, I tell him, seem very content.
Now it is time for his flock to move to another field. “Vado,” he says to me, and “Venite” to the sheep. With a little help from his cane fedele, they follow him down the road and leave me in the same condition as the sheep, very content.