This was my absolute favourite place we visited while on this trip. What a charming place, so much history on it… and what great delicacies to try (and to eat)! ?
We were first presented with the beautiful sights of the city “hanging” on the cliff. Little did I know about the wonders I was to meet soon…
Walking through the center was a delicacy on its own; plenty of beautiful perspectives and the associated “photo opportunities”, and there’s even an Italian word to describe that very specific concept: lo scorcio!
Pitigliano is also known as la Picola Gerusalemme (the little Jerusalem) as it used to be the home of a really strong Jewish community there—in the 19th century they made up to 20% of the total population of Pitigliano. Sadly, Mussolini’s promulgation of racial laws under Nazi influence caused them to flee in the 20th century. A really sad story.
In spite of all this misfortune, the synagogue was restored in 1995, it’s still in (ocassional) use, and there remains a Jewish presence on the town, although nowhere near what it used to be.
What better way to start our introduction to the Jewish culture of Pitigliano than to visit il Forno del Ghetto (the bakery of the ghetto)? Frankly, I can’t think of anything better than that.
I felt immediately comfortable in the bakery. The familiar smell, the arrangement—it felt so Spanish!
It even displayed one of those information signs that bakeries must display to inform their customers about the prices and composition of the goods! Good for customer information, and also for home bakers with an eye for replication, I’d say! ?
A couple of things that caught my attention were their usage of brewer’s yeast (lievito di birra) and sourdough (lievito madre). It’s quite interesting!
We had the chance to try sfratto, which are a type of traditional Pitigliano Jewish sweets with a shaped like a stick and filled with a paste made of honey, walnuts, orange peel, aniseed and nutmeg.
The taste somehow reminded me to the English mince pies which are eaten during Christmas times, but the Jewish ones do not come from a happy place—all the contrary, as they represent the sticks that were used to knock on the doors of the Jewish and force them to relocate inside the ghetto in the 17th century.
Leaving the sad background aside, I was not a big fan of the sfratto, as I’m not a fan of mince pie to start with ??♀️
What I was certainly pleased with is the other sweet we tried: the tozetti. I loved them!
They are like cousins of the Valencian casquinyols, which are some of my favourite almond-based sweets.
If you put their ingredient list side by side, like I’ve done, you can see that they mostly share the same ingredients. (I have italicised the divergences).
– Lemon juice
– Lemon zest
I’d say that the biggest difference is that the casquinyols can be really hard to crack, possibly because of their lack of yeast and milk—so you have to cut them before baking them, and not after baking them (as is the case in the tozetti).
We then moved on towards the Museo Ebraico or Jewish Museum (which also provides access to the synagogue).
The complex contains a number of caves that were used for different purposes, often with religious purposes, such as wine making:
This was the butcher’s area:
Il forno delle azzime (Kosher bakery) is particularly important, as that’s where Matzo, the non-yeasted bread for Passover would be baked.
Another similarity to Spanish culture I noticed is that the tortas de gazpacho, i.e. the flat breads used in the Manchegan gazpacho are really similar to Matzo.
This part of the complex isn’t entirely underground for (I suppose) ventilation reasons. The window grill is decorated with a seven candles emblem—the menorah.
And the similarities do not end here. At the gift shop, I noticed these spinning utensils called Sevivon which are used for playing a game during Hannukah.
It instantly caught my eye as it looks so much like another cousin of the Spanish Toma Todo game, which was also one of my favourite pastimes when I was a kid (and maybe I would not mind playing it again).
We had lunch at a place called Locanda del Pozzo Antico, which had a glass-covered hole on the floor through which you could look into the pozzo antico (the old well). It also had double IPAs produced in Tuscany:
It tasted way less hoppy than it smelled. But the true highlight of the lunch was the chickpea soup. It was described as Jewish and thus I wanted to try it!
To my surprise, and although it wasn’t a big surprise at that point, it tasted like something you’d eat in Spain too, perhaps one of our chickpea stews (potajes). But this one was different, and I couldn’t quite place the finger on what it was.
All I know is that it was delicious and I haven’t been able to find a recipe yet! Please send it to me if you have it.
Then it was time to explore a bit more before leaving the town.
It was the beginning of the afternoon, which is also unfortunately the time where many shops are closed, so I couldn’t find out what kind of marvels nest in this shop called “Fruit oasis”, but I swear to this day I am still intrigued!
Our group mates were really chatty and charming, and somehow they convinced a bunch of people who were preparing some sort of festive activity to let us go beyond peering into and directly enter their cave. And that’s how we got access to the basement of this house!
On reaching the bigger square, we couldn’t resist the calling of the ice-cream for the rest of the passeggiatta.
I mean, when the parlour is literally called “Gelato da passeggio” i.e. “ice-cream for walking”, you can’t but have some (and also cry a little when you see the prices of these compared to the prices in London).
Pitigliano was great!