We have just now tipped our toes into winter in the Valle d’Itria. If the brilliant sun and biting cold is a preview of coming weather attractions, we think we’ll survive. Still, our gas bill arrives every three months based on our previous three-month’s usage. Sometime during next spring, we could be in for a shock. In an effort to husband our resources, we’re using our heat sparingly. The result? I am usually found perched on our cast-iron radiator holding my laptop in one hand and typing with the other. You’ll forgive the occasional misspelling.
After exhausting the obvious remedies—roasting things in the oven, many-layered clothing ensembles and indoor calisthenics—we braved the elements for a change of scene. While wandering down our street, we noticed that our bakery was closed for rinnovamenti (renovations), which piqued our interest. Peering between paper blinds that blocked the proceedings inside, we caught a glimpse of carpenters and electricians. In that moment, a baker we’ve known for years beckoned us around the corner and down a flight of stairs. We followed happily, if a little puzzled. Happy because it was . . . toasty in there! We were invited into the warmth of the wood-burning bread oven room, which may become our new home in Martina Franca if the cold weather continues.
The Angelini forno a legna (wood-burning oven) has been in constant production since 1915, expanding to four locations throughout Martina Franca. The oven, which has a huge capacity, furnishes all of the stores with a staggering array of bread, rolls, focaccia, ring-shaped savory biscuits called taralli, morning biscuits suitable for caffe latte dunking and almond delicacies of all kinds. The main retail location—our bakery—was due for an interior remodel, so while the work progressed, the bakery continued to serve its customers directly from the downstairs production area. Bread is a serious business here and customers’ daily bread requirements are paramount.
Before we could take our gloves off, Sig. Angelini thrust slices of just-baked focaccia into our hands. Could there be a more heavenly moment than biting into a wood-fired oven semolina crust covered with sweet, hot tomatoes and new extra virgin olive oil? Not in our recent memory, anyway. We chatted happily with the Angelini crew, which included various sisters, a nephew and other relatives all engaged in the family business. They were all deeply invested in our review of the focaccia as we inhaled it, their warmth settling over us like a blanket. We would have stayed forever, but we were clearly impeding the business of the day, standing squarely in front of the fiery maw of the oven as we were.
Now we are finding many compelling reasons to stop by the Angelini bakery if only to spend a few restorative moments in front of the fire, smelling the yeasty aroma of just-baked semolina bread. During the hot summer months, bakers’ lives must become a special kind of torture here, but winter has transformed their work into a vocation of the gods. And we are becoming more godly by the day in their presence.