You will find Antico Forno Santa Chiara in the southern region of Puglia behind the walls of Altamura, where their world famous Altamura bread is made. In fact, Altamura bread can only be made in Altamura... it has D.O.P. designation and is under strict standards to be able to use the name "Altamura" bread.
Vito Macella, is the owner, baker and a bit of pirate and showman. He loves to show off his historic forno (oven) that dates from 1423. His is one of of the first public ovens in Altamura, used for cooking meats, biscuits, pretzels and other Pugliese baked specialties, and of course, the famous Altamura Bread. A short walk inside the walls of the historic center and you'll come to the Forno. You can park your car on the Corso Vittorio Emanuale II just outside of the old arched porto where Via Madonna dei Martiri begins. Take a stroll three intersections until Via Corte D'Appello and then you'll see tiny Via Luca Martucci on your left. It's really like a very small piazza with the Forno Antico at the back left corner. You'll probably see a large round table outside with an umbrella over it. There might be people sitting, chatting and eating. Sit with them and join in.
When Vito comes out to greet you, tell him you would like una degustazione (a tasting) of whatever he feels like putting in front of you. Depending on what he baked that day, and what other local ingredients he had to create with, he might bring you a plate of antipasto, focaccia, squares of pizza, olives, tomatoes, tiny bocconcin (mozzarella balls), sliced caciocavallo cheese, prosciutto, lardo, or carpaccio--paper thin slices of raw veal marinated in red wine. Oh, of course, he'll always have some of his Altamura Bread for you to taste. We consider unexpected lunch we had at the Forno as one of the best we ate in all of Italy.
Inside the doors of the Forno you can see Vito at work at his rustic oven. The stacks of wood are what he uses--early each morning--to fire up this massive cavern. It takes lots of hard work and many hours to get the mass of stone inside the oven up to temperature. The bread of Altamura is made according to traditional methods and with high quality, local ingredients, the two most important (as Vito told me) being the water and the local Durham flour. Altamura bread was the the first product in Europe to bear the D.O.P. logo in the category "Bakery and baked goods". No wonder--it's such a special bread. The loaves are quite large with a shape like a floppy chef's hat or a sort of fat beret. It is airy and full of bubbles inside with a dark brown crust nearly 1/4 inch thick. Unlike Tuscan bread, they use salt in Altamura Bread, so there's loads of flavor. One more thing: The bread can stay fresh for weeks... some say for a month! A loaf we bought Vito's bakery lasted up for several days all the way back to Rome.
But again, there's more than just the bread to experience here. Vito offers the biggest dose of Southern Italian hospitality that anyone can find. He is charming, roguish, funny and inviting. You'll meet his kids and sit with strangers talking many languages, but somehow you will all be friends in the end. By all means, buy some bread and other treats here, but just soak in the atmosphere, the personalities and the wine.
Don't pass by Altamura. You won't be disappointed.
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