Focaccia is one of the most popular types of bread in Italy, with a long history that reaches distant times of early Ancient Greek culture and Etruscans who lived in North Central Italy before the formation of Roman Empire. This flat bread topped with spices, olive oil and other products was in use for thousands of years, before it was gradually morphed into one of the most famous Italian meals – pizza. However, during its entire trip through our modern history, focaccia managed to remain unchanged, with basic recipe that survived unchanged from the time of Etruscans or Ancient Greeks.
This great Italian bread originated from the northern shores of Mediterranean, and slowly spread into the cultures of Greece and Rome where it was very widely used. In the beginning focaccia was cooked on heated tile, earthenware disk or on the hearth of a hot fire, with bakers often puncturing the bread with the knife to prevent appearance of large bubbling on the surface. Alternatively, they used needles and dotted the bread in regular patterns, sometimes poking the bread with handle of utensil. One of the most important ingredients of focaccia was always olive oil, which was added to the top of the dough as a mean to preserve its moisture after coking.
Focaccia and later on pizza became very early one of the staples of the Italian cuisine. They were widely used across Italy during Roman Empire, often being sold on the streets by vendors or dedicated bakery shops. The destroyed city of Pompey on the slopes of the Mount Vesuvius (who erupted in 79 AD) has managed to preserve remains of the ancient roman life, with plenty of proof pointing to the very widespread industry of creating and selling focaccias and pizzas.
After the centuries of use, many regions of Italy have managed to slightly modify original focaccia recipe and adapt them to their regional tastes. Since long ago they started associating this meal with Christmas Eve and Epiphany, and various flavorings made it very popular in other parts of the world. For example, Americans like focaccia with olive oil, rosemary, sage, garlic, onion and cheese toppings. They could also be sweet with addition of honey, eggs, sugar, lemon, orange peel or raisins. All of these toppings were heavily used all across Italy, because any bread with the distinctive topping was not taxed less than ordinary breads.
Today, focaccia can be found all around the world under different names and recipes (in France it is called “fougasse”, in Argentina “fugazza”, and in Spain “hogaza”).