When I first came to Italy, too many years ago now to count, it was just about this time of year, late June or early July. We drove down through the Crete Senese, the hills around Siena, in the soft sunset afterglow that lasts so late into the evening at this midsummer season.
I remember a full moon rising over wheat fields, almost like van Gogh’s great painting. The grain had been gathered some days earlier and the sheaves were standing in shocks or stooks to dry before threshing.
I’m grateful to have seen that because the wheat shocks have disappeared though wheat itself is still important. I read in Cucina Italiana that the production of hard durum wheat in Italy has increased by 13%–although the writer neglected to say over what. Last year? Ten years ago? This century?
But just look around you and you don’t need anyone to tell you wheat is still an important crop. The wheat in the Valdichiana is almost ready for harvest, thin stalks stretching tall, bending in the summer breeze with the weight of the seeds. From a distance, the fields are burnished to a reddish bronze, and the fragrance on the hot, dry air is hauntingly like that of fresh bread. Or maybe that’s just my imagination. We speak of a river of wheat and that’s truly what it looks like in some areas.
But bread is what it will eventually become—first the harvest, which lasts from early dawn well into the night during these long midsummer days; then the threshing, the trebbiatura, grindingly hard, hot, dusty work relieved at the end with a feast for all hands; and finally the milling of the grain to turn it into flour and the basic food of Tuscany, of Italy, of the entire Mediterranean.
This bread comes from Forteto, a wonderful cooperative in Vicchio, in the Mugello. (It’s a place I like to visit with guests who come to the AmorOlio programs at Villa Campestri.) The bread is made from whole grain wheat–you can tell by the pleasant beige color–raised in the region and ground at an old water-powered grist mill operated by the Griffoni family in the upper Casentino. It’s naturally leavened and baked in a wood-fired oven. With a dribble of olive oil and a wedge of fresh tomato, what could be better?