In between all the eating and drinking* I go to school. Here’s proof.
This is an adapted version of the paper that my colleague, Laura, and I wrote on our experience at Panetteria Fagnola. The project was for an anthropology course; what was supposed to an exploration of a food space ended up being hour after hour of bread and treats (not complaining), establishing a sweet honey connection (apologies), and a fascinating discussion on Slow Food with the artisans themselves. It’s a bit long, so feel free to skim, Mom; you may want to skip over the “academic” parts – can you tell we had to somehow incorporate our course readings? Comunque.
“Vorrei lavorare bene con materie prime più naturali possible e sopratutto che garantiscono qualità e igiene per poter essere sinceri nei confronti dei clienti.”
I want to work well with the most natural ingredients that guarantee quality and health so I can be sincere to my clients.
Gianfranco Fagnola, the current owner of Panetteria Fagnola, epitomizes a philosophy that has been passed down for nearly a century - a dedication to food and integrity which one still finds today in his modest bakery in the outskirts of Bra. A humble man, Gianfranco defends quality over quantity while promoting an environment of genuine exchange and working ceaselessly to keep his independence in the face of increasing bureaucracy. Gianfranco is part of a growing but fragmented group of producers who are working to redefine their roles as artisans. Based on our fieldwork, we believe that it is artisans such as Gianfranco who practice the true essence of slow food - in a way that Slow Food as a business no longer does.
Though he would be the last to admit it, it is Gianfranco himself and his three guiding values of humility, professionalism, and exchange which have made Panetteria Fagnola the institution which it is today. Though he graciously accepted our praise, he was equally insistent on qualifying it: yes, the piadine are fine today, but they need some more salt; the humidity is no good for the dough today, he probably won’t sell that bread tomorrow. Is such perfection tiring? Absolutely not: mai avere la presunzione di essere arrivati. Devi guardare sempre avanti. C’è sempre da imparare. (Never be presumptuous enough to think that you have arrived. You must always look ahead. There’s always something to learn.) Anything less would be complacent, lazy and dishonest to his valued clients. Yet such humility was delicately balanced with his pride, which was felt more towards the institutions he was a part of than any personal efforts; proud to continue in his father and grandfather’s traditions, and proud of the Richemont Club and its commitment to excellence.
As a native of Bra and self-proclaimed artisan, it was only a matter of time before Gianfranco discussed his views on Slow Food. His personal philosophy seems to undoubtedly support that of Slow Food; but would he consider his bread to be good, clean, and fair, the three standards by which Slow Food judges all products? His humility prevented him from admitting that his bread was good. Though he is undoubtedly proud of his work, he notes that it is more important to consider each day separately, and what he would deem “good” one day could be unacceptable the next. To admit that his bread is good and will always be good would be folly; rather, he considers himself to be forever in pursuit of a better product. However, after spending several days with him and eating more bread than we thought possible, we can confidently conclude that, yes, his bread is good.
Tomorrow we leave on our first real stage. Destination: Alto Adige. I spent a couple days in Bolzano just after leaving Spannocchia; it’ll be great to see the city again in a different season (and without my prosciutto thighs) I’ve just realized that this essentially kicks off my summer – apart from two cheese exams (!!) next week, school’s out for the summer. And though I’ve really enjoyed the past two weeks of class, my travel plans have come together to create what could be an epic month. As of now, I’ll be wwoofing at Spannocchia for the first two weeks, then catching a flight to Puglia to meet some girls from school with the specific intention of eating as much burrata as is physically possible; hopping a ride back to Bra to then go to southern France to wwoof (and consequently hating myself for my inability to remember anything from my seven years of French class), and finally/possibly rounding out my trip with my burrata-buddies as we take on la cuisine provençale. It’s a good thing I’ve packed stretchy pants.
*tomatoes, white peaches, apricots, rye-kamut-farro-whole wheat bread, grissini, lardo, more tomatoes, caramelized onion ravioli, carne cruda, more peaches, yogurt, hazelnuts covered in honey, more bread, veal brains, and cow face. That’s been my diet in the past three days. Oh, and then some booze. Whoops.