Italian bread in Italy
If you ever happen (MAKE IT HAPPEN!) to enter italian bakeries in Italy, it will seem to you that only bread “specialists” are allowed to make an order there, and the rest is merely standing by… shyly waiting for their companion (remember cum + panis...) to order, or simply enjoying the fresh smell.
Now, here’s how a typical Italian bread order might look like, pretty much everywhere in Italy: “a half sfilatino, please, with two or three panini all’olio and a pagnotta di sciapo, not too hard mind you. Oh and half a dozen rosette, but not of those with too much crumb…”
There are people, that would take up to 15 or 20 minutes to perfection their order…
I have often seen my mother, when going into italian bakeries with her in the past times, testing the fairness and knowledge of both the baker and the customers, sometimes expressing her disappointment with loud grudges if these were not demonstrating a sound knowledge and handling of the “bread matter”.
But this is what you can expect from the hardcore bread buyer for the whole family: if you are more of a casual bread buyer, you basically just need to know the difference between a panino, a pagnotta and a sfilatino.
Panini are by far my favorites: nothing like a rightly shaped panino to engineer a legendary, multi-layer sandwich with all-you-can-find.
Normally, there is enough variety of panini that you would be able to pick up the one to go with prosciutto di parma or prosciutto cotto, or salame (yes, salame, NOT salami... unless you are eating more than one!).
Another great thing about italian bakeries is that, many a time, they will not only bake bread or they will be happy to help you prepare a sandwich with their fresh bread!
I love it, when I enter a bakery in Italy, with my filling of preference, to hand it over to the baker for a fresh (sometimes still warm) panino...
Generally speaking, sandwiches in Italy do not take that big looks of their foreign counterparts: typical Italian sandwiches are based on cold food, with either prosciutto crudo, cotto or salame, diversely matched with vegetables and/or cheese.
If you look closer, though, you will find some long-kept secrets that only some groups of people were reserving to themselves.
An example of that is the panino “con frittata” (with scrambled eggs) which, in turn, can be corroborated by meat, onions, potatoes: well, this is (or has been in the past) the typical Italian food for masons and workers.
A powerful combination of proteins and carbohydrates in a relatively small format, to be consumed over lunch break.
"Panino", "Pagnotta" or "Sfilatino" ?
The following, is the typical terminology that you would use in italian bakeries, a kind of common ground if you will, which would allow you to be easily understood.
But, what is it that you can expect to find in italian bakeries after all ?
Ok, let's have a go at it!
Panino (“panini” if in plural form) is the general term that indicates the small to medium format of Italian bread, which you would either find on the table as an individual portion or used to prepared sandwiches.
Those loaves of bread with a squared shape, many a time already sliced, so diffuses especially in the anglo saxon countries, the so called “pancarrè” in italian, is NOT the most popular in Italy: that is why, if you use the term “sandwich”, it would be used in its English form to indicate triangle-shaped Panini from pancarrè, with the most diverse fillings and that are called “tramezzini” in italian (quite special and, apparently, invented at Turin's “Caffé Mulassano” in 1920 and named by Gabriele D'Annunzio).
So, remember, when going to Italy: a sandwich (“tramezzino”) is different from a “sandwich” (panino).
The “pagnotta” (loaf) is the medium to big size Italian bread format and indicated specifically the round-shaped (and the elongated one as well) of that bread that needs to be sliced in order to be served.
Pagnotta would be bought for a family (instead of many panini), as it is more capable of resisting to the day after… ready to be consumed, in case fresh bread was not available.
Sfilatino is another very interesting Italian bread format: without getting too sophisticated in its description, it indicates the long-shaped bread (even beyond half a meter) that retains characteristics that are common to the Panini (especially its crumb density) and the pagnotta (typical crust).
The name itself derives from the word “filo” (thread), referring to its long and narrow shape.
Naturally, just to be more confusing, some specific Italian breads are called pagnotta or sfilatino, in the different parts of the peninsula and without necessarily indicating the same thing.
Now, let me list here at least some of the most widespread, best Italian bread specialties, by region, city or town where possible !
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