Natural Organic Bread Making in the Sibillini Mountains

A few weeks ago, Hans and I were invited to a morning demonstration of bread making using natural yeast in the Sibillini mountains. Of course we said yes. In typical Italian style, a group of interested people show up someplace for a demonstration, then afterwards we all eat a huge lunch together. Do I need to explain why I like living here?

The demonstration took place at a wonderful organic farm in the Sibillni mountains: Azienda Agricola Michele. They grow their own organic wheat, using old methods, then take their flour to a very old mill in Umbria that uses only river water to power the stone grinding wheels.

sibillini mountains in the fall

The road to the Azienda Agricola


The owner, whose name is not Michele, but is called Michele because his grandfather who started the farm was named Michele,  says these mills are very rare today but this milling method retains all of the nutrients in the wheat so he thinks it’s worth the travel and hassle of bringing his wheat there.

Michele, a warm easy going man who is passionate about his farm, organic wheat and food production and of course bread making, travels around educating groups and delivering his bread, cookies and pasta to shops in Le Marche.

Michele explaining about wheat growing and processing

Michele spent quite a bit of time explaining why modern wheat varieties, grown with oodles of chemical pesticides and herbicides  along with modern milling practices, bleaching, and so on produce wheat that is deprived of any nutrients other than calories, and that are also very difficult to digest, causing all sorts of problems like intolerance to wheat. My daughter is wheat intolerant, and I’ve read reams of studies on this subject and I concur with Michele.

Michele also explained that many flours sold as “whole wheat” are nothing more than super processed wheat with some of the bran and germ mixed back in before packaging. Sigh.

pane e olio

Snack: What else but pane e olio (bread and olive oil)

This azienda only makes a wheat classified as #2, a light whole grain which has all of the germ and most of the bran left in. No white flour here.  They grow 2 types of flour, a soft wheat for bread, (I forgot the name, but it’s an old variety) and an old variety of hard wheat to make pasta called “Senatore Cappelli”

The pasta is actually made in an old fashioned pasta making place near Tivoli, outside of Rome. Once again, the travel and hassle is worth it to Michele because they do such a superior job turning the flour into pasta.

Yup. Not all pasta is equal…how it’s made, which flour, which water, what temperatures, etc etc. make one pasta different from another.  It’s an art form. Having eaten Michele’s pasta now on several occasions, I’m glad this place in Tivoli exists!

natural organic bread making in italy

Our friend Sandro with baby Giulio who is quite the gourmet and loves this bread!

The bread is made with a natural yeast starter. Those of you who know me know that every winter I bake all of our bread with natural yeast, so I found Michele’s description of how everyday he keeps his great grandmothers yeast starter going fascinating and educational. I’ll write about the details in another post soon because there is an awful lot to say about yeast.

making bread with pasta madre in the sibillinis

Demonstrating bread kneading with a young guest

The azienda also makes and sells cookies, traditional cookies made with flour, olive oil and vino cotto. No rising agents, no salt, no butter. He mixes the dough, then lets it sit overnight, then in the morning the dough is shaped by hand into little wreaths. We all had a go at this. It’s harder than it looks because each little chunk of dough needs to be warmed in your hands by kneading it until it becomes pliable enough to shape. Good thing there were a lot of us.

Shaping the cookies

Cookies ready for the oven. They will become part of our lunch.

After cookie shaping, we visited the room where they knead and raise the bread.

commercial bread kneading machine

This is the same room that houses a gigantic wood oven that Michele keeps a small fire in 24 hours as the bread needs a warm locale to rise very slowly.

Outside of the wood oven

The doors below the oven have racks where the bread rises.

inside of the wood oven

After many discussions about commercial bread, wheat, the slow food movement, food politics and so on, we all returned back upstairs to eat:

In the tradition of true agriturismos, our food was either produced by our hosts or produced locally. Mountain cheese and salami, lentils, pasta (of course!) with tomato sauce from the garden, roast local chicken, salad and an assortment of the aziendas cookies, all served with local wine and bread.

Bread made with natural wheat flour and yeast tastes of wheat, has slight sour flavor (not at all like commercial sour doughs) and keeps at least a week, unlike modern Italian bakery bread that becomes hard and crumbly after less than a day. It’s easy to digest, is full of nutrients and best of all has that lovely greyish color, hard crust and springy texture of the breads I so fondly remember from my youth, when most of the bread in Italy was made from these unrefined flours and baked in wood ovens.

View over the roof of the azienda towards the sea and our house



4 comments to Natural Organic Bread Making in the Sibillini Mountains

  • Hi there
    I love your site.
    I too make bread from the ‘old grains’ which incidentally must be stone ground the old way (metal machinery generates too much heat).
    I am interested to know where you buy your flour.
    One of these days I will get down to you and buy some of that wonderful soap.

    • Thanks. I buy flour from various local farmers/mills. We have several in the neighborhood that are organic. Michele does not have enough flour to sell unfortunatly, but hopes to acquire more land so that in about a year he’ll have flour to sell as well. Then I’ll be buying from him!

  • Nia Roberts

    Hi there. Just come back from a wonderful (very hot indeed!!!) holiday in Le Marche (near Tolentino). Made bread every day using various flours, yeasts etc. The best results were using Semolo flour (which I understand is a fine-ish ground semolina? I need to find it or an equivalent back in the UK) and powdered Pasta Madre Lievito which was the only thing I found in the supermarket (Oasi) which looked like yeast. The ingredients include “starter” so I’m wondering if this is a mixture of yeast and sourdough starter? I make sourdough at home so I’m used to using a fresh starter. I also tried using 00 and 0 flour and some fresh yeast I got from a baker, which also worked well I thought.

    I wonder if you could tell me more about the Pasta Madre stuff – I am really puzzled by it – and also if you have any idea whether the Semolo flour would be available in the UK.

    Thanks for the great site anyway (wish I’d found it before we went to Italy!)


    • Hi. Sorry for the late response! Semolo is indeed a finely ground semolina. I bet if you looked online you could find semolo flour. It’s the grind they use in the Pugliese bread from Altamura.
      I’ve never used the powdered pasta madre, it’s sold everywhere. Pasta madre is nothing more than fresh starter. There are hundreds of ways to make it, with flours, with potatoes, with fresh fruit juices. The other day I was reading about rye breads in one of my favorite bread books (Bernard Clayton) and New York rye starter was water and mashed crusts from old rye bread! Right now I’m just keeping some dough leftover from the last loaf and add some flour (any kind) and some water daily until I bake the next loaf. Right now I’m baking about 2 times a week. Pretty soon our persimmons will be ripe and I’ll make my favorite (for flavor) starter which is mashed persimmon juice and rye flour.
      I do not add any extra yeast to my bread doughs, just the starter. Personally, I’m not keen on 00 flour, it’s highly refined and lacks any nutrients. My favorite of the whitish wheat flours is #2, which is partly refined, it’s basically like the “white” flour of my youth when the bread it Italy was oh so good!

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