For centuries master bakers have made the best-leavened products in the country, transforming the town into a landmark for bread.
By Anna Volpicelli
It is still considered the bread town. In Agerola, since ancient times, master artisans of leavened products began preparing taralli and biscuit bread baked in wood-fired ovens in the early morning. A practice that was also widespread within the home. “In the past, Agerola was closed. It did not have access to Castellammare di Stabia as it does today, but the only connection was to Amalfi. So entire families, thanks to the presence of wood-burning ovens in the houses, every fortnight or so would prepare stocks of biscuit bread and taralli,” says Pietro Naclerio. He, together with his entire family, carries on Integralpane, a small business founded by his father, Armando, in 1993.
Also called the bread of sailors, in the Middle Ages, sailors of the glorious Maritime Republic of Amalfi filled their holds with vast quantities of biscuit bread made with rye flour without adding salt. S sailors would soak it in seawater to make it softer and flavor it with the salt in which seawater is rich. The activity of bread-making in Agerola has a long history. The first traces are recorded around the 11th century thanks to the presence of numerous mills along the Penise River, which allowed the inhabitants to undertake bread production. In the mills, cereals were ground, including rye, germanella, barley, spelt flour, maize, or Indian wheat, called Triticum. The kneaded flour was then baked on circular clay dishes called pigellulas, probably made in the Amalfi village of Pogerola attested in 10th-11th century sources under the toponym Pigellula.
As professor Giuseppe Gargano wrote in his book Terra Agerula. Evoluzione socio-economica e rivisitazione topografica nei secoli del Medioevo: “among the types produced was the umbula, named for its bolus shape. It was eaten at Easter and was made from flour, water, honey, egg yolk, spices, and raisins. Then there was the tarallo (tarallum), whose origins also date back to the 11th century in the Amalfi area. Its shape was very similar to what we see today, that is, toroid or doughnut-shaped, and it was made in two different ways: with flour, fennel, and salt, or with flour, lard, almonds, and salt.
The tarallo in the oven
The process for making taralli and that for biscuit bread is similar, with small and essential differences. “Once the taralli are shaped, prepared with flour, sourdough, water, salt, and fennel, as the classic recipe calls for, they are laid on wooden boards and then left to rise. As soon as they are ready, they are boiled for a few minutes in water and then placed in the oven to bake for three-quarters of an hour. After that, they are placed in the cookie tin for about three hours at a temperature of 90 degrees. The step in boiling water is important because it gives the taralli their color and firmness,” says Nicola. Biscuit bread, so called because it is baked twice, is made with whole wheat, rye, corn, or white flour, and unlike taralli, it is not boiled. The time in the cookie maker is also slightly longer, about seven hours. Established in 1973, the Pisacane family’s business has been handed down from generation to generation. “My parents,” says Franco, “started in the 1970s, and I, who grew up in the workshop, started very early. I was 11 years old. I have been doing this business for over 40 years, and my wife has always helped me. Now let’s see if Nicola will carry it on.”
The bread in the making
Loved by all
Besides the traditional type, there are different varieties of taralli: those with butter, butter, almonds, and suet and almonds. “When I was 14 years old,” says Armando Naclerio, founder of Integralpane, “I wanted to be a baker, so I went to learn the trade. Then together with my brothers in 1972, I opened a plastic wrapping company, which I later abandoned in 1992, and then returned to my great passion, bread.” It is constant work that requires a lot of commitment and presence. “We don’t work on Sundays,” the founder continues, “but I have to come to the company three times a day to renew the sourdough starter. Eaten during meals, the tarallo is also a healthy and wholesome snack for the little ones. “It is my children’s favorite snack,” says Pietro Naclerio. A staple of the Agerola diet, both the Tarallo and the biscuit bread have, over time, become part of the local gastronomic heritage. “In Agerola, we say the wine of three years and the bread of three days. And we respect it.”