The traditional making of Altamura’s bread is marked mainly by a creative relationship between hands and risen dough – a symbolic and cultural universe still alive in the memory, and not only in the memory, of a whole city.
The representation, which takes place between the work surface and the oven, tells us, in detail, also about the gender division related to the working cycle of bread, that is the differentiation between female and male tasks: the first practiced in the intimacy of the home, the second in the public open space, the bakery – a lively place for social aggregation.
It was always a woman’s job to prepare the dough on the kneading through: she would with great mastery mix the yeast with the flour carefully sieved, hot water and salt. She would use both hands to work the dough until it reached a good consistency and a discreet solidity.
Thus, bread making was one of those activities typically feminine and was naturally part of a female’s education from a very young age. Indeed, it was her job to prepare the yeast, sieve the flour, mould the dough – activities which marked the rhythm of homely life.
Bread also had a strong symbolic meaning: element of life, symbol of the sunlight and principle of reproduction which touches both human and earthly fertility, but more generically symbol of health, security and wellbeing of the individuals and the community.
Once the process of leavening and kneading was finished, the preparation would continue in the public bakeries where bakers finished kneading the dough to which they gave its final characteristic shape, before marking it with the initials of its owner and baking it.
Today, for obvious reasons, Altamura’s bread is not made at home, but in bakeries which have maintained – both in the use of raw materials (the renowned durum wheat re-milled semolina) and in the use of some of the working techniques (the use of natural yeast, the manual shaping, and the baking in oak wood-burning ovens) – those aspects which have allowed this particular durum wheat bread to achieve the EU DOP (Denomination of Protected Origin) mark.