Crunchy and tooth-wrenching on the outside, fluffy as a cloud inside, ciabatta is Italy’s most famous bread and Britain’s most middle-class sandwich foundation. With its mishapen, rustic appearance you could be fooled into thinking it has nestled beside the fresh buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes still dusted with soil on a farmer’s table since the Renaissance. In fact, the ‘slipper’ (ciabatta in English), that great symbol of the hearty Italian cuisine, only appeared on the scene in the 1980s, and was produced in the wake of growing concerns at the popularity in Italy of that skinny, elongated loaf, the French baguette.
The world of bread is as heated and chaotic as an Italian kitchen, and it would seem there are two claims to the prestigious title of ciabatta inventor. There are two men involved: Francesco Favaron, a baker from Verona, and Arnaldo Cavallari, mill-owner and flour producer from Adria. Favaron maintains that he was the true inventor of the bread, and even provided it with its not particularly accurate name. The flour to make the bread came from the Molini Adriesi, owned by Cavallari.
On the other hand, Cavallari (incidently previously a rally champion) has claimed adamantly and consistently that he is the inventor of the original ciabatta. Certainly his old mill proclaims so. (Qui è nata la ciabatta italia – ciabatta italia was born here)
It is true that Cavallari registered the trademark for ciabatta polesano in 1983, and his firm now liscences the production of its recipe in 11 different countries, with an emphasis on natural ingredients and healthy products. The ciabatta invented by Cavallari uses a gluten-rich flower and a lot of water. Over the years he introduced his bread to Australia, South Africa, Brazil and beyond. In 1990 Cavallari also trademarked ciabatta italia, and in 1999 he founded the Academia del Pane. He also found time to get a Guiness World Record for longest panino (sandwich) but sadly that title has now been claimed by another.
Cavallari published a book in 2004 with an excellently succinct title: A Life in the Sun: Rallys, Bread, Women.
Adria, Home of Ciabatta
Well, even if there is uncertainty over its origins, ciabatta is celebrated with determination in its probable birthplace, Adria, from the declaration on the initial town sign to the extensive but sadly now dilapidated self-proclaimed ciabatta italia factory. While the original mill may have halted its wheels for good, around the town various bakeries and restaurants have been awarded the accolade of official ciabatta producer as verified by Cavallari’s Academic del Pane. A ceramic plaque on the outside allows you to choose your ciabatta producer shrewdly.