Family of Bakers
In the near-century of our existence we have served, literally, generations of families, but Margaret Dvorken holds a place of honor at the Di Camillo family table.
In the early 1980s, Margaret Dvorken, a Texan, was introduced to Di Camillo Bakery’s biscotti by her friend Carol, a Niagara Falls native who had relocated to Mrs. Dvorken’s town of Wichita Falls, Texas.
“Everyone in our office knows Margaret Dvorken—she’s ordered so much so often we thought she had a retail store in Texas!” recalls my uncle Michael Di Camillo.
Born in Niagara Falls to Tomaso and Addoloratta Di Camillo, Joseph was the seventh of twelve children, and the youngest of five brothers who comprised the nucleus of the DiCamillo Bakery.
“Nothing looks more dramatic on a Christmas table than a Pandoro.”
Some words are lost in translation: our Pandoro isn’t one of those. Literally
“golden bread” (due to both its color and amount of egg used in baking), Pandoro is a star-shaped crown of a cake-bread and is dusted with powdered sugar before serving. The sight of this cake brings to mind a snow-capped mountain in the Alps or the Apennine Mountains that kept Italy a kingdom of regions, each with its own specialty in the baker’s art.
Fancy Food Show 1983, Michael & Theresa Di Camillo.
There is always a moment, or a product that sets loose an entirely new trend in the marketplace. Invariably, it is on the shoulders of what came before, but there is that moment when something explodes on the scene with all the newness of new life. I was fortunate to have been there at such a moment.
I have been assured by my Aunt Theresa that it is not just family lore that her father (my grandfather) Tomaso Di Camillo arrived in Niagara Falls, New York on Thanksgiving Day in 1898. It was the end of his journey from the Italian Abruzzi hill town of Villamagana. It seems that dates, feast days, and omens had deep meaning to my grandfather who was, by all accounts, a deeply spiritual man and the founder of our family bakery. The concept of a meal of thanksgiving appealed to him. Its significance was confirmed for him by his arrival on this quintessential America holiday.
My father’s family embraced Thanksgiving Day as if they themselves had invented it. The bakery they ran became, on this day, their private kitchen. Our Scaletta “curly” Italian breads, and Biscotti Di Prato were baked early in the day and then put aside. The bakery ovens, still hot from baking our daily fare, were now in the service of the Di Camillo family’s personal Thanksgiving dinner.
The preparations eventually involved nearly every woman in the family. The men were put into service to load the ovens. What remains most vivid for those of us lucky enough to have been present at these wonderful feasts is the memory, not of the traditional Thanksgiving Day turkey, but a roasted piglet! As the years passed, capons, and then finally turkeys themselves did eventually join the Di Camillo family Thanksgiving menu. However, the main event was always a roasted piglet that our grandfather, grandmother, and their descendants lovingly prepared, and then conveniently roasted in our bakery ovens! Our parents, aunts, and uncles have regaled us with stories of our grandfather even brushing the teeth of the piglet!
This very Di Camillo interpretation of Thanksgiving Day did, in short order, incorporate one dish of the traditional American meal: bread-stuffing. Although it never actually “stuffed” the cavity of the piglet, it was always served separately as a baked, crusty, savory side-dish-- very nearly a bread pudding. Certainly the bakeries day-old Italian Scaletta bread played a part in our families embrace of bread-stuffing. Our Scaletta “curly” Italian Breads were always seen as something precious, and day-old bread was always recycled: either ground for bread crumbs or sliced and toasted and buttered for our Biscotti Di Camillo (“Italian crisp-bread”). Our grandparents were very practical-- yet extravagant—people, and bread-stuffing became an early and central component of their Thanksgiving Day meal.
And as children, we were more interested in this delicious, crusty, savory baked bread-stuffing than in the actual meat course it accompanied!
For years we have offered in our retail stores our twice-cut and twice-baked Scaletta “curly” Italian bread for this essential Thanksgiving course. We know of no better beginning for the preparation of bread-stuffing than our Scaletta “curly” Bread twice-cut and twice-baked.
Our crusty sesame-studded breads make a hearty base for any bread stuffing recipe, and we are happy to share our family bread stuffing recipe with you as well as offer you the opportunity to purchase our bread no matter where you are on Thanksgiving Day, or throughout the year.
Getting involved in baking might, at first, seem like an odd transition from someone trained as an opera singer who spent five years as a voice professor at a small university renown for Musical Theatre. But actually, if you went even further back, you’d find that I always enjoyed working with food-- and I was always pretty good at it, too!
I grew up watching my father cook and bake wonderful things for our family on Sunday evenings. He worked tirelessly at the bakery office, so Sunday was his day in the kitchen. His dietary restrictions (lactose intolerant, no onion, no garlic) made his food amazingly creative and delicious! In college, I would miss Dad’s “Sunday Gravy” so much that I’d call him and he’d talk me through the process so that I could make it for my roommates. Hey, at least it got me out of doing dishes!
When my wife and I moved down south, I really began to indulge more in the kitchen. I missed my Di Camillo bread and rolls so I learned to make something that I could at least tolerate south of the Mason-Dixon Line. It was always a fun and adventurous process. As I got more seasoned, my results became quite good. Around this time I also began brewing my own beer. The two seemed to make sense together: yeast, grain, and water. This was where I learned one of the more important lessons: how yeast behaves – so important for any baker and/or brewer.
When my wife found a new job at the University of Buffalo, we agreed it was time to move back to Western New York. I decided to put away my professional singing and teaching and move into something closer to my roots – Italian baking.
Ironically as a high school kid, I never worked in the bakery itself—rather, I worked as a clerk in one of our stores. But I found baking was an easy fit when I returned as an adult. Over the years, I had read a lot of books on baking and I wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty. Almost immediately I began experimenting with natural leaven breads, cultivating and feeding my own starter, and even nurturing a sour culture over the last year. These experiments got me to the roots of bread: simple ingredients, precise measurements and temperatures, time, Old-World molding techniques, and an intuitive spirit. In a world of mass-produced “breads” filled with preservatives and excess sugars, it’s amazing how deliciously simple good artisan bread can be.
And that’s my story of how I got into baking. If you were to ask me five years ago that I’d be doing what I’m doing now I’d say, “You’re nuts!” I guess life isn’t always predictable but it does seem to give us what we can handle. I’ve also been so fortunate to be around family and co-workers I’ve known all my life. Not a bad gig!
--Matthew Di Camillo