Moving to the next stall, the warm, crowded scent of fresh baked bread embraces you. And in the back of the stall, on a marble slab, a roly-poly fat-faced man massages a thin sheet of pasta. His fingers mesmerize you as he deftly cuts and molds perfect little shells, dropping them on a baking foil. This is true alchemy, but instead of turning lead into gold, he transforms water, eggs and flour into delicious pearls.
No wonder Bologna is called la grassa, ‘the fat one,’ a term which refers to its cuisine. I can imagine Farinelli striding long-leggedly through a light rain along Via Clavatura, humming a tune as he carries a bag of pasta and a loaf of bread.
Although he never achieved any worthwhile girth, from his journals we know that Farinelli enjoyed bread with a thin, crisp crust surrounding a soft, flaky interior. And even in Farinelli’s day, good bread was hard to find.
In today’s world, people just want their bread to be white. Not Farinelli. Il castrato sought out bakers who used only natural yeast, which makes the best bread. And the dough must have been kneaded at least three times. Farinelli knew that Egyptian bakers of yore, in their quest for perfection, kneaded the dough with their feet.
Another highly desirable adjunct to good bread was the wood-burning oven. The coals imbued the rising dough with a certain taste and a distinctive smell. And the crust firmed up slower, allowing it to be crackley and thin. In that manner, when bitten into, it was like a delicate pastry. If you look hard, you can still find such bread in one or two of the bakeries in Bologna. In these shops they eschew gas or electric ovens, which are popular because wood is difficult to come by. Not only that, it’s expensive because woodcutting is not a popular career track.