If there is one thing I have learned here in the ZCoB (Zingerman’s Community of Businesses), it is not to judge a food by its cover (or, in this case, a bread by its crust). Raise your hand if you’re with me on this, but I am typically drawn to something that is familiar to me in some way, especially when it comes to selecting a bread.
Maybe it’s the shape, maybe it’s the color. Maybe I just recognize the name. Sometimes it is even a distant memory of my mother buying that loaf when I was grocery shopping with her as a little girl. Regardless, I am definitely guilty of judging bread by its cover.
But over the past year working in the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, I have made it my goal to try at least one new thing a week. Whether it is a slice of bread or a new coffee, I have been inspired to try one thing that, initially, makes me think… “Oh no, not trying that.”
Now, if you are anything like me, there are probably one or two loaves of bread you buy each and every time you walk into the Bakeshop. Am I right? But, I am here to ask you to join me on my mission of trying new things! And to start, we have a super tasty loaf of bread that we have been baking here at the Bakehouse in late 1993.
What is Paesano and why do we work so hard to fill it with holes?
It is round(ish), light in color with little speckles of organic cornmeal on top. It is definitely an eye-catcher, but not in the way you may be thinking. The loaf is quite large and very unique in its amorphous shape. First we make a starter called a poolish which ferments for 5-6 hours and then the dough is mixed and our bakers leave it to proof for about 5 hours. Next the dough is scaled and shaped… by hand! The dough is a bit unruly because of the higher water content, so our bread bakers shape each loaf by hand. After shaping, the loaves are in the oven within the hour. This makes Paesano special, too, because most doughs are left to proof even longer after being shaped.
The crumb (the inside bit of the loaf) is very light in color and filled with large air pockets. And we work hard to make those air pockets! The Paesano dough we use has so much more water than your average dough, so when it is proofing, you can even see air pockets forming and bubbling to the surface. These “air pockets” are really pockets of trapped CO2. So, during the 14 ½ hours of fermentation, these large pockets of ‘bread aroma’ are produced and become the wonderful diaphanous cells that distinguish the open crumb of the Paesano. And those air pockets allow the bread to fully absorb the flavor of whatever you are serving it with. So, definitely 100% intentional!
With such a wet dough, how does the crust keep its crunch? Most doughs are steamed while in the oven, which gives the crust its shine. Because the Paesano dough is mixed with so much water, it doesn’t require much steam when we bake it. And we roll the dough in organic cornmeal, so we desire the loaf to have the crisp crust that develops in steam-free baking chambers.
What makes it so special then?
The Paesano actually originates from the Puglia region of Italy. The name itself translates to “villager” or “countryman.” Paesan is a term used in that region. Here in the US, the equivalent of the word is something along the lines of “friend” or “homeboy.” The recipe itself came from bread baker Michael London when he first visited us here at the Bakehouse to help refine our recipes and baking techniques. And that recipe hasn’t actually changed much over the years. So the loaf you’re tasting today probably tasted fairly similar when we first started baking it back in ‘93.
It is one of our foundation breads, one of the originals we have been baking since we first opened our doors. It has been around for quite some time, giving us the opportunity to perfect the recipe, our baking method and even give us a little time to figure out how we like to eat it best!
Paesano is one of the top loaves of bread sold online by our partners at Zingerman’s Mail Order. In fact, last year they shipped 10,000 of them. For their catalog full of estate olive oils, aged vinegars and special sauces Paesano is their go to loaf. The quintessential dinner bread they say.
Slice it up, brush it with olive oil and garlic, throw it on the grill for a new summertime take on garlic bread.
Perfect crust (and crumb) for a muffaletta sandwich. Take a page out of Zingerman’s Roadshow’s book. Cut the loaf into quarters, pull out a little bit of the inside (to promptly eat, of course), stuff with meat and cheese and a little red wine vinaigrette. Place on a panini press until the cheese has melted to your satisfaction. Add a little lettuce and tomato if you dare!
My favorite way to eat it? Cut a few slices and bake in the oven until they are a bit crisper. Add diced tomatoes, onion, garlic and basil. Drizzle with a little olive oil, then top it off with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. A bruschetta that can even hold its ground next to my mother’s cooking!
There is nothing you can’t do with this bread. Extra pasta sauce? No problem! Dipping bread for soup? It doesn’t get any more perfect than the Paesano. I hate to say all-purpose, but Paesano can really be used for just about anything.
Give it a try! It may just become your new favorite bread.
-Natasha Mason, Zingerman’s Bakehouse