This time Roberto Giuliani Takes the Stand:
When I taste a piece of bread just purchased at Biancini Palma's Wood Fired Oven in Sant'Oreste, a beautiful town of the Sabine Hills located in the Riserva del Monte Soratte, in the northernmost part of the Province of Rome, I remember the aromas and flavors from when I was a child. To run a real wood-fired oven now is a gargantuan enterprise; it requires many people, is a lot of work, and begs experience and care, especially if one wants to maintain quality starting with the primary ingredient, soft wheat flour.
And soft wheat poses one of the major difficulties: it is ever more difficult to find, assuming one doesn't want to settle for an industrial product. Government support for the cultivation of durum wheat (which began in the early 1970s) are much greater than those for soft wheat, and because of this durum wheat cultivation has increased, to the point that Italy is the world's major producer. Soft wheat has instead followed the opposite path.
The reason is simple: The EEU favored the cultivation of durum wheat so it could reduce imports of the grain, and also because of the steadily increasing consumption of pasta.
And this is why Palma Biancini's four sons, who now manage the oven, decided after considerable research to buy the flour from a grower in Sora, in the Province of Forsinone (as Giuseppe notes, "with a wood-fired oven qualitative deficiencies come out!"), a struggle from an economic standpoint but necessary to obtain quality. The next goal is to resume grain production here, at Sant'Oreste, to be able to oversee the entire production process.
In this small bakery they only use the traditional fascine, bunches of non-aromatic twigs from nearby forests, and in addition to bread they make pizza bianca (a flat bread similar to Ligurian focaccia or Tuscan schiacciata), a variety of cookies, doughnuts, tozzetti, almond cookies, walnut cookies, crostate, and classic holiday cakesm for example Easter Pizza. They make everything with their own olive oil.
A wonderful selection of goods, which people don't seem to appreciate as much as they used to; part of the problem is that it's impossible for them to compete in terms of price with supermarkets, while quality is no longer the general public's primary criterion: Money's tight and people are much less careful of what they eat, especially the younger generation, which has grown up with other flavors and is often unable to appreciate or even recognize quality food, and thus doesn't request it.
"They used to come especially from Rome to buy our goods, but now it happens less often. People don't like to travel, don't look for old flavors or traditions, to the point that many people don't even know of Sant'Oreste, even though it's only 30 km from Rome and easy to reach."
Thinking of it, even I who get around a lot and know Lazio pretty well, had never noticed this bakery despite stopping in the town more than once. Why? Because it's not downtown, but rather in Via Santa Maria (# 44), and is one of those places outsiders are not likely to stumble across. And to think that when it was opened by Grandma Margherita in the 40s it was right next to City Hall... But wood smoke pollutes, they say, and they were forced to move. This despite the fact that motor vehicles freely access the heart of town... A paradox, and even now people have complained, and tried to have them shut down.
And thus, year by year we see small shops that should be the pride of our country disappear, we loose techniques and methods that the coming generations will therefore never learn, and nothing is done to halt the slide. But Giuseppe and his brothers are tough, and have no intention of giving up; they plan to fight as long as they have the ability and drive... But the accounts do have to balance, and one cannot live on air ("Every month," Giuseppe says, "sales follow a precise pattern: For the first two weeks sales are pretty good, because people have just gotten their wages and pension checks. Then sales gradually and steadily drop off, until the next month, when they perk up again").
How to fight a scenario like this, which would appear to offer little chance for survival? By setting up an association of local shopkeepers, the few brave holdouts, and thus we have the Sapore di Soratte: Honey, olive oil, cheeses and baked goods. "Working together and proposing a variety of goods yields good results, with the added bonus of helping people discover our region and its best products."
It's quite easy to reach Sant'Oreste: the simplest way is to take the A1 motorway and exit at Ponzano Romano, though from Rome one can also take the tree-lined Via Tiberina past Fiano Romano and follow the signs for Flaminia - Santà Oreste. What are you waiting for?
Il Forno a Legna - di Biancini Palma
Via S.Maria, 44
Sant'Oreste (RM) tel. 0761-579385
email: fornoalegna.biancini (@) yahoo.it
Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti. We Are:
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