The Tuscan “pane sciocco”
We can all agree that Italian bread is what dreams are made of; for us a good meal is not the same without it.
But did you know that Tuscan bread is very different from the other Italian breads? Alas, for once, we’re missing something the rest of Italy isn’t: salt in our bread!
But do not think this makes our bread any less delicious. In fact, Tuscans, like their bread just as it is, “sciocco”. Pane sciocco, means unsalted bread, but sciocco also means stupid, and this may have something to do with the fact that it is lacking in flavor without the salt to help on that front.
But as we said, we prefer our bread like this, especially because we accompany almost every dish with bread and we do like to savour our soups, salads, meat, cheese, vegetables, legumes etc. Salt in the bread would alter the taste of our already quite flavorful food, and a good Tuscan find this unacceptable.
It wasn’t always like this though, in the beginning, our bread had salt in it. Why the Tuscans renounced to put salt in their bread, it’s still not clear.
Florentines like to think that it was all the Pisans fault, their ancient rivals, if at some point they were forced to give up salt around 1100. It seems, in fact, that in that period of strong rivalry between Pisa and Florence, at some point the Pisans decided to block the salt trade with Florence to force it to surrender. But the Florentines, rather than surrender to Pisa’s blackmail, chose to prepare bread without using salt.
The most plausible hypothesis though, is that salt was taxed too heavily in medieval times, forcing a large part of the population of Tuscany, including Florence, to cook making do without this ingredient.
However, the real interesting fact, is that the Florentine population became so attached and used to unsalted bread that they decided to continue producing it even after the tax was lifted.
If you ask Tuscans about this strange choice and how they can find unsalted bread any good, they will probably tell you: “Our dishes are just as flavorful as they are, we don’t need the extra salt, thank you very much!”
Other Italians may roll their eyes when they hear we prefer our bread “sciocco”, but what can we say, as Tuscans we are stubborn people, and we like our traditions.
And unsalted bread is such an old tradition that even Dante, in the Divine Comedy, talks about his need to adapt to salty bread during his exile from Florence.
" You shall leave everything you love most dearly:
this is the arrow that the bow of exile
shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste
of others’ bread, how salt it is, and know
how hard a path it is for one who goes
descending and ascending others’ stairs. "
(Paradise XVII, verses 55-60)
If even Dante Alighieri implied that bread is better without salt, who are we to disagree?