Italy - one thinks of wine and food. Yes, there was fine wine (really nice brunello) and delicious food (some in unexpected places); there was gelato and pastries on practically every block; but I pursued a bread quest. I wish I could have lived in Italy for six months, enough time to traverse the country and try out bakeries across cities and in every region. Rome alone would require at least a month. [Photo: Hipster bakery in Florence right near the Ponte Vecchio.]
Forno is Italian for oven and for bakery. And true bakeries there were. Outside the city centers, one could find fornos that sell mostly bread or an even a combination of bread, pastries, and something called pizza, but really a thick, almost pastry-like rich foundation for cheese, vegetables or and meat. (Pizza as we know it was sold, with thin crusts, but in separate establishments.) There are also lovely, tiny fruit and vegetable shops the size of a walk-in closet, little cheese and meat shops (weird mix if you grew up or are kosher especially because most of the meat is pork), and places to eat outside, whether at a piazza or on one of the benches attached to a building on a side street, not to mention the ubiquitous eateries.
Fiorenze bakery without a name
Go to the synagogue in Fiorenze (Florence) if only to get away from the huddled masses of tourists in the city center. It's a beautiful and meditative place. Very un-churchlike. (No one buried there; no images of faces; no sculpture; beautiful, dark graphics that evoke the Middle East.) On the way, on a street with the best ground view of the Duomo, you will have the opportunity for a fantastic meal, including fresh bread, a pastry-like foundation for spinach and ricotta, and that cookie I mentioned.
It's on the Via dei Servi. Down the street, back toward the Duomo, there's a tiny place for good lampredetto (if you eat meat and pork; I don't, but my husband loved it), and one of those stores smaller than an office with some fruit. Sit outside to watch the world go by. [Photo of the outside of the bakery.]
You know you are in the right place when the bunch of Army guys who guard the synagogue show up for lunch en masse at your favorite bakery. [Just below, photos of the back of the Florence bakery without a name. That's where the bread and cookies are sold.]
[Photo of the fruit and vegetable store right by the bakery. That's the outside and the inside.]
Go to Lucca for this bakery and, okay, the famous ancient wall
Lucca is a lovely town, not too small, with plenty to see and do. Or one can do nothing but stroll on the wall, eat well, drink and listen to music. The town is worth a visit just for the wall, just to hear Puccini's arias sung in a church, and just for the wonderful bakery, Forno Casali.
Forno Casali is hidden on an ordinary side street. The customers were all Italian, including some truck drivers who began eating the fresh focaccia the second they left the bakery. The corn foccacia seems to be their specialty, but their pane integrale/lievito naturale and everything else we sampled were all excellent. I did not find this place myself; I read about the bakery on a food blog, A Cook Gone Mad. I stayed quiet and ordered, saying nothing of my bread blog or my crush on this gem of a bakery. Perhaps my crush was so intense I could not get the words out. Also, I was proud wherever I went when I could transact the simple business of ordering and paying in Italian.
I did not take photos of the inside because it was such a gem of an ordinary place that I did not want to taint it with my tourist excitement. I did, however, take photos of the outside.The address is 31 or 32 on Via Guinigi.
The wall is fantastic even if you know nothing of its history, but go to the free city museum, which has a lovely demonstration of when the wall was built, expanded, and finally made into a public park. As with much in Italy, the Romans were the first in this endeavor.
Don't forget to attend a Puccini concert in the church.
After the stroll, before the stroll, or whenever you are walking around (except on Sunday or mid-day or afternoons on a couple of days), visit Forno Casali. If it is morning, add a cappuccino somewhere else. Stand, listen to Italian being spoken, and enjoy the bread as you walk along. Daydream and wander over to the church at about seven in the evening to hear some Puccini and whatever songs are accompanying his music that evening.