The San Biagio Ciambella is a traditional ceremonial sweet that is produced on the 3rd of February in San Vito Romano when, in the church dedicated to San Biagio, a special blessing of olive oil and ciambella takes place. The history of this product has its roots in popular culture linked to San Biagio, the protector of the throat.
San Biagio is one of the so-called “auxiliary saints” or those saints invoked for the healing of particular evils. There are numerous miracles attributed to the saint: the best known one refers to a boy who risked dying from a fish bone stuck in his throat. This is why San Biagio is considered the patron saint for winter ailments, especially sore throats.
During the ceremony on the 3rd of February, the olive oil was blessed during the ceremony and was passed, with a gauze, over the throat of the participants, as protection from winter ailments. At the end of the ceremony the ciambella was distributed.
There is no concrete information as to why a ciambella was chosen as a product to be distributed at the end of the ceremony, it is assumed that the choice can be attributed to the compactness of the sweet; in fact, it is soft and fluffy, and this consistency undoubtedly helps to stop bleeding from a sore throat.
This product is part of a vast tradition that presents interesting differences depending on the location. For example, in Milan, on the day of San Biagio, the leftovers of the Christmas panettone are blessed. In Lanzara, in the province of Salerno, it is customary to prepare special meatballs, known as “polpette di San Biagio”. In Abruzzo panicelle are cooked, which are loaves in the shape of a hand, to remember the moment when the saint placed his miraculous hand on the head of the boy who had ingested the fishbone. There is also a similar tradition in Molise, where round sweets called colaci, and pandice which are also known as San Biagio breads are made.
The ciambella that is produced in San Vito Romano is sweet, but not too sweet, it has delicate hints of aniseed that develop when they are chewed and that release balsamic hints that infiltrate the taste and smell. It has a fruity and fresh aroma in the mouth. It is a leavened sweet, therefore it is soft, and it can reach 20 centimetres in diameter. The height can vary but is around 5 centimetres. The surface, once leavened, is smeared with egg yolk so that it has a brown and shiny colour when it is cooked; the consistency is soft but at the same time compact.
The recipe is simple and includes easily available ingredients such as flour, sugar, eggs, extra virgin olive oil, milk, lemon and orange peel, aniseed and yeast. After having mixed the ingredients to form a homogeneous and smooth dough, it is left to rest until its volume doubles. The ciambella are then formed into their shapes which are left to rise further, and they are covered with egg yolk. The end result is a ciambella that weighs around 250 grams. It takes quite a long time to make the dough and the result is a versatile product, that is suitable to be eaten alone or as an excellent accompaniment to sweet or savoury products.
The San Biagio ciambella is only available in limited quantities because it is currently only produced by a single bakery. It is possible to purchase it all year round.