Just back from Milan, where I went for a conference related to nutrition and health, in my role of epidemiologist (but truly it was my foodie soul to push me there), and could not help missing the final lecture to head to the nearby EXPO, unmissable for someone dropping by Milan in this period. I had only a few hours and a very slow nonna (grandma in Italian) and a faster (but extremely uncollaborative) 6-year old daughter with me, so I could just get a general impression. In fact, the theme of our few hours at the EXPO was: where is the kids’ play area? You know, things like these can truly prove a foodie and breadhead woman, and indeed it was like being in a candy factory and not being able to eat any sugar. Frustrating, but, hey, I sneaked in a few bread-related bites on the long, long, way, to the kids’ play area…
As I was walking by, I stumbled upon this beautiful reconstruction of traditional Italian bread shapes. Note that they look somewhat different from the Parisian inspired breads we now see remade everywhere, and often improved in creative ways -thanks to the artisan bread revival we all are part of. Italian traditional bread shapes are much more rustic, “approximated”, unrefined. Of course we also have a tradition for decorated bread, but that is for special occasions. It was not our daily bread. Our daily bread looks very much like these loaves reproduced in the two pictures above. So un-pretty and un-fancy. And they give me goosebumps. So if you wonder where I take my inspiration from, here you have your answer. Trying always to recreate that emotion, that special feeling I get when I meet a traditional Italian loaf.
One thing I liked of this tribute to bread and wheat is that they put at the center of the scene a setaccio, a sifter. One important part of the steps that led to good bread was the sifting process. If done poorly, it was giving a heavy, and difficult to chew, and harder to digest, bread. Italian bread was generally made with sifted flour, where most of the bran was removed. Still, the Mediterranean diet Italians used to follow was ensuring tons of fibers and vitamins. From vegetables, legumes, and fruit. Wheat was mostly a source of highly digestible starches, precious starches, plus specific vitamins harder to get from other foods.
Then there was a photographic tribute to traditional breads, from the renowned Joel Meyerowitz, and my favorite shots were these two.
And then there was even a baker clown. How could we live without one?
I was pleased to find on show some industrially baked items including heritage grains (and a minimal amount of raw sugar together with no palm oil). This is good progress.
I also noticed that the national distribution of Sicilian heritage wheat has boomed in Italy, although I could not spend too much time examining the items, due to a whiney kid, still cute in her wheat-related uncollaborativeness.
She seemed pretty happy to pose as a breadhead though, not so much later.
In the end, while I had the general impression that way too many resources were used for the EXPO, while the message was much about (the politically-correct) biodiversity and sustainability -basically building up something unsustainable to promote sustainability, a contradiction in terms- I was happy to have sneaked in. And I liked the fact that they gave the right space to wheat and bread, sending out encouraging messages, like this one:
And to finish the circus, there was a lights show on a modern sculpure made for the event and called “the tree of life”. Again, a lot of energy wasted to give a positive message. To me a real tree would have been just fine. But it was kind of pretty to see, even if it made me feel guilty (to enjoy the waste).
I hope you liked my passionate and dispassionate account of my quick tour of the EXPO. What are your own impressions? Have you heard about it before? Have you been there? Would you like to go? If not, at least now you have seen some of it, from a breadhead perspective. Happy baking!