I should preface this post by saying I love bread from the “old country,” that is, bread made from good ingredients in a traditional manner. It’s very hard to find bread like this, at least Italian bread, anymore, as the neighborhood bakeries closed. In New York City, the bakeries still exist in the Bronx on Arthur Avenue. Italian bread is traditionally crusty. Some places like Whole Foods replicate Italian breads, but they just don’t hit the mark. Luckily, I got to have bread from some great bread bakeries around the NYC area before they closed. So I’m always on the lookout for good bread, and I have great respect for the tradition of bread baking.
In my North Carolina travels, I found two bread ovens, one constructed a long time ago and one constructed recently, but that both make traditional breads.
Le Phare des Alpes is a men’s club in Valdese, North Carolina, that was started as a mutual aid society by the Italian Waldensians who founded the town in 1893. A few years ago, I wrote an article about a traditional Waldensian sausage called soutisso for Primo magazine (scroll down the link for the recipe). I met some of the men at the men’s club during one of the bocce tournaments they host there. I was privy to a special treat that happens only once or twice a year, the baking of bread in the old oven. I feel honored to have gotten to try this bread since it is a traditional food done on rare occasions. The oven was made by Waldensians out of the local field rock. It is a gorgeous sight to see.
The bread is hard and crusty and was used in the way Italians use bread–for dipping in coffee, wine and soup.
Now, being Italian, I am familiar with Italian breads. I am not, however, familiar with Middle Eastern breads, and was introduced to the diamond-shaped samoon by a trip to Baghdad Bakery in Cary, North Carolina. The shop sells other types of bread as well and is open all week except Monday.
When I walked in and saw the oven a few years ago, I knew I had found something special.
–Dina Di Maio
Posted in America, Bread, History, Italian, North Carolina
Tagged Baghdad Bakery, bread, Cary, Iraqi, Le Phare des Alpes, North Carolina, oven, samoon, Valdese
Valdese, North Carolina, is a town in the western part of North Carolina with green valley pastures and rolling hills. In 1893, 125 years ago, it was settled by a group of Italians from the Alps in the region of Italy known as the Piedmont.
They were called Waldensians because they practiced the Waldensian faith. Persecuted for their religion for centuries, in the late 19th century, they saw a population boom and branched out to live elsewhere. A group founded Valdese and created a lasting legacy. Valdese is a good day trip from most of North Carolina’s major cities. On August 10-11, 2018, the city celebrates its 125th anniversary with the Waldensian Festival. Here are some sights to see in Valdese:
- Village Park Mural–A beautifully painted mural in an outdoor park on Main Street detailing the history of the Waldensians from their start to their founding of Valdese.
- Waldensian Heritage Museum on Rodoret Street–The museum is a must-stop to learn more of the day-to-day life of the Waldensian people with examples of their traditional dress as well as a replica of a Waldensian home. The museum also has a really nice gift shop with books and gifts from and about Italy and the Waldensians.
- Waldensian Presbyterian Church–In 1895, the Waldensian Church became part of the Presbyterian Church. During the festival, the church sponsors a traditional Waldensian meal.
- Waldensian Trail of Faith–Here, you can tour the replica of a Waldensian village in the Alps.
- From This Day Forward–an outdoor drama from the Old Colony Players about the Waldensians of Valdese. It celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
- Waldensian Heritage Winery–The winery was founded in 1930 by Waldensians where they use traditional methods to make wine.
me at a wedding at the winery
- Bocce courts–Bocce is a favorite pastime of the locals, as is evidenced by the bocce courts off Main Street.
- Le Phare des Alpes–The Valdese Men’s Club started as a mutual aid society created by the Waldensians. Today, it hosts the North Carolina Bocce Tournament. During the festival, you can check out the bocce tournament and also sample some handmade soutisso, the local Waldensian sausage that I wrote about for Primo magazine. (Scroll down the page for the recipe.)
- 100 Main–A restaurant on Main Street that serves soutisso a few different ways, but also the traditional way with green beans and potatoes.
- Local street signs, architecture and cemetery–Waldensian culture is evident in the names of local streets, in architecture of older buildings and houses, and in the names of those buried in the local cemetery.
–Dina Di Maio
Posted in America, History, Italian, North Carolina
Tagged 100 Main, 125, bocce, From This Day Forward, Le Phare des Alpes, North Carolina, soutisso, Trail of Faith, Valdese, Waldensian, Waldensian Festival, Waldensian Heritage Museum, Waldensian Heritage Winery, Waldensian Presbyterian Church, Waldensians
Vinegar is another item that is essential to an Italian. It goes hand in hand, often, with olive oil, as in “olive oil and vinegar.” Contrary to popular belief, the vinegar of choice for most Italians is red wine vinegar, not balsamic. In fact, balsamic is not exactly a vinegar, but more of a concentrated and aged grape must. Grape must is an ancient form of sweetener used in Italy and the Mediterranean areas. True balsamic vinegar comes from Modena, Italy, which is in the Emilia-Romagna region in North-Central Italy. The majority of Italians who settled the United States were from Southern Italy, as I mention in my book, Authentic Italian, and the foodways of Italians here follow Southern Italian traditions. That is why balsamic vinegar is fairly new to the United States, although it is not a new product, but it was a regional one in Italy. Having said that, grape must was also used as a sweetener in Southern Italy. My family did not use balsamic vinegar, only red wine vinegar. In addition, the Waldensian Heritage Winery in Valdese, North Carolina, makes a red wine vinegar in addition to its wines, so I’m thinking that even though the Waldensians who settled the tiny town in the 1890s were from Northern Italy, they also used red wine vinegar traditionally.
What is it used for? The most popular use for vinegar is on salad. Italians dress their salad with olive oil, vinegar and salt. Simple and delicious!
–Dina Di Maio