By Giulia Scarpaleggia
S.forno is a cozy bakery with vintage, bohemian vibes that’s located in Oltrarno, one of the most authentic neighborhoods of Firenze (Florence), Italy, not far from the Arno River. It’s been a forno, a neighborhood bakery, for more than 100 years. Angelo, a local baker, baked bread there every morning for 40 years until 2014, when he sold the bakery to Il Santo Bevitore, a restaurant a couple of minutes away from the bakery, for which he was already baking bread. It was Angelo who passed down his skills to Rose Hélène Govoni, who’s now the head baker at S.forno.
From the outside, S.forno is still the same shop, a humble bakery whose entrance door is crowned by the original sign, panificio, dating back to the 1970s. Inside, they kept the original cotto tiles and vaulted ceilings and furnished the bakery with vintage elements: a butcher’s counter, a goldsmith’s octagonal table, bookshelves and stools with a patina of age, and a school blackboard where you can read the daily specials.
Just behind the counter, the bread loaves are neatly arranged in baskets and on shelves, their shades and textures a pleasure for the eye. Here, you can find the flagship product of Tuscan gastronomy, pane sciocco, a white, crusty country loaf traditionally baked without salt, a bread that marries the local cheese and charcuterie beautifully. Along with Tuscan bread, S.forno offers a wide range of loaves, from whole wheat bread and rye flour-and-cumin loaves to Pugliese semolina bread, seeded buns, and baguettes. There’s also a Florentine classic, pan di ramerino, a soft, sticky rosemary bun studded with raisins, traditionally associated with Easter but now a fixture of the bakery. It makes for a great panino when stuffed with mortadella, Galaverna del Mugello (a local bloomy-rind cow cheese), and saba (a cooked, syrupy condiment made from grape must).
If you are more of a pizza person, S.forno will tempt you with focaccia, Tuscan schiacciata doused in extra virgin olive oil, pizza with several seasonal toppings (if you’re there in late summer, you’ll be lucky to try the fig and prosciutto pizza), and cecina, a thin, savory chickpea pancake native to the Tuscan coast that’s naturally gluten-free and vegan.
Want to sit for breakfast? Be quick to snag a barstool or one of the few tables by the front door. Order coffee and one of the bakery’s traditional options designed to make you feel at home: pane, burro, e marmellata (bread, butter, and jam, a kids’ favorite), pane e cioccolata (bread with chocolate), granola with fresh fruit and yogurt (from the local Mugello farm Il Palagiaccio), croissants, pain au chocolat, and crostata. Pop in for lunch and you’ll find quiches bursting with vegetables, croque monsieur, crostoni with cheese and local charcuterie, panini made to order, and soups.
And let’s not forget the sweet side of S.forno, which takes both an international and a very traditional approach. On one side, you can have a taste of tarte Tatin, apple cakes, fruit pies, frangipane tarts, cinnamon and cardamom buns, cheesecakes and chiffon cakes, brownies, and cookies. On the other, S.forno offers a proper selection of traditional treats: torta della nonna, a pastry cream tart bejeweled with almonds; castagnaccio, a chestnut flour cake made with raisins and pine nuts; scarpaccia di Viareggio, a sweet basil and zucchini cake from the northern coast of Tuscany; rice pudding tartlets (my favorite as a child); grape schiacciata; and biscotti.
S.forno is also a proximity or gourmet food store, where you can stock up on high-quality pasta, flour, bread crumbs (made in-house from the bakery’s unsold bread for a zero-waste approach), cheese, eggs, canned San Marzano tomatoes, apple juice from Trentino, and artisanal jams and preserves.
After enjoying the lovely baked goods at S.forno, plan to spend time wandering the streets of this area, where artisan workshops still share space alongside local stores, cafés, antique shops, wine bars, and family-run trattorias. It’s the perfect place to get lost and discover Tuscan makers and flavors.
Find more about our travels through Italy in our July/August 2022 issue!