In the hills of Alto Molise, Mercedes rises at 3.30 to prepare her loaves for the wood-fired oven, using logs from her woods, and grain from her fields. Traditional bread baking for Mercedes, is all about the grain. The ‘pane casaerecio’ of her childhood was nothing like modern bread, even from the best local bakers. Using methods that had been traditional in her family, alternating crops, using only animal ‘stecco’ (manure, no chemicals) and keeping part of their 15 hectares fallow, she was able to produce a high-quality wheat, with only a small amount of gluten. Before long Mercedes was supplying her extended family, then neighbours. She soon found herself with a small group of clients and began to sell in artisan food markets and fairs.

30 kilos of bread are made daily in this little oven and once that is done, Mercedes makes delicious trays of pizza and a traditional breakfast cake, ‘pagnottini’, sweetened with a little local honey. She uses a small quantity of potato in the dough, which keep the bread softer for longer – a very old recipe from a time when bread needed to last weeks. And hers does, in fact, it’s better after a few days.

There’s no sign right now that her children will take up the mantle. It’s a hard day. After a long morning, Mercedes cleans and shuts the bakery, and tends to the vegetable garden and the grain fields – although all the family help with this. Then the house needs cleaning, and there are all the other chores. When the family’s 25 goats are giving milk, Mercedes also makes cheese. Once a year they slaughter a pig to provide the family meat.

Her son would like to continue this work and expand the small holding to make his livelihood and despite being very capable and entrepreneurial – he has been forced to find a job in a factory. This kind of rural livelihood is dying out because laws and heavy taxes make the work pretty much impossible for the younger generation.

Baking was traditionally a womans job – the men tended the land. But today with taxes and laws really working against small farmers, the women are keeping the land all by themselves while the men go out and get jobs in factories, or run their own enterprises. Like our driver, Fernando, who’s really a cattle farmer but has a 9-seater vehicle and a thriving taxi service, while his wife is left to look after and milk their 50 cows. Fernando manages to keep his land going, but needs to supplement their livelihood by driving.

Mercedes is the most engaging and amusing woman, full of insights and observations. It is an incredible pleasure to spend time in the bakery as she works, tasting the crusty pizza with tomatoes and herbs from her garden, and hearing stories of her family and her life. She is cautious about the future, but resourceful.

Live & Learn Italian Language Holidays – A taste of the 2 WEEK PROGRAMME

  Saturday, June 15-29, 2019 Our drivers Fernando and Donatella brought guests to Agnone in 2 batches - from Canada, Australia, the US and UK. Sunday, we went out to Marco’s, to hear about his honey and wine production. The pollen is extracted from wild fruits...

Guest Review of Live and Learn Italian by Jenny Matthew, and her travels in Italia

I'm delighted to share a wonderfully written guest review of Live and Learn Italian this month, resplendent with added tales from further Italian exploration by Jenny Matthew. Many guests find incorporating 2 weeks with us in Agnone as a great way to hone...

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Emerging young artist of the Marinelli family, Ettore shared his work with us at the Bell Foundry this summer   The tradition of metalworking in Molise goes began three thousand years, when the Samnite tribe, once Rome’s fiercest rivals, were casting statues for...

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La 'ndocciata 2018On the 8th of December I finally saw l‘ndocciata, Angone’s most famous annual event. Believe it or not, I’d never witnessed it. High time then…It’s the biggest ‘festival of fire’ in the world, ‘una scia di fuoco’, and allegedly the oldest – though...

Guest Review of Live & Learn Italian by Joy Nash – Italian language vacations

Reflections on Summer 2018 The Live and Learn Italian immersion ‘experience’ was created completely organically, and continues to grow organically. Each year I discover new local characters and regional opportunities, and so the programme develops. It’s a language and...

Our Italian language teachers receive high praise from participants

We are so lucky to have a wonderful team of teachers and praise from our guests this summer has been so strong, I wanted to dedicate a page to them. Over time we will add more and include their thoughts and comments – for now take a look at their histories and...

Guest Review of Live & Learn Italian by Barbara Gentile – Italian language vacations

This review is by our guest Barbara Gentile (USA)   'The Live and Learn Italian program really lived up to its name' Having spent two weeks in Agnone in June (2018), I can say that the “Live and Learn Italian” program really lived up to its name. Weekday mornings...

Not Quite Beginner Holidays

Join a group to kick start your ItalianWhen we first introduced Beginner's groups, it was obvious that participants with a bit of Italian under their belts had a much better time and got a lot more out of their stay than those who didn’t know a word. So we created Not...

Live and Learn Italian selected by Tutorful as ‘best Italian resource’

We are thrilled to have been selected by Tutorful as one of the best places to learn Italian in Italy. This carefully researched article - How to become fluent in Italian - Top tools to learn Italian fast - highlights helpful tools such as Best Apps, Best Websites...

Studying with Live and Learn Italian

Welcome to our programme. Not so much a language school, but an experience. When I went to Agnone, no one spoke to me in English, yet everyone was willing and ready to communicate. So I had to speak Italian! It’s not so easy to meet locals in Italy and even harder to...

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