Ciabatta is an Italian white bread made from wheat flour and yeast, created in 1982 by a baker in Adria, Veneto, Italy, in response to popularity of French baguettes. Ciabatta is somewhat elongated, broad and flat and is baked in many variations.
While 'panino' indicates any kind of sandwich regardless of the bread used (whether slices or a bun), a toasted sandwich made from small loaves of Ciabatta is specifically known as a panini (plural of panino) outside of Italy.
Ciabatta was first produced in 1982 by Arnaldo Cavallari, a baker and miller from Adria, a small town close to Venice in Veneto. Cavallari and other bakers in Italy were concerned by the popularity of sandwiches made from baguettes imported from France, which were endangering their businesses, so set about trying to create an Italian alternative with which to make sandwiches. The recipe for ciabatta came about after several weeks trying variations of traditional bread recipes, and consists of a soft, wet dough made with high gluten flour.
Cavallari called the bread ciabatta Polesano for Polesine, the area he lives in and registered it as a trademark. The recipe was subsequently licenced by Cavallari's company, Molini Adriesi, to bakers in 11 countries by 1999.
Ciabatta bread has become popular throughout Italy. Many regions have their own variations on the original recipe or a bread which closely resembles ciabatta, and which has become accepted as a variety of ciabatta; the ciabatta from the area encompassing Lake Como has a crisp crust, a somewhat soft, porous texture, and is light to the touch. The ciabatta found in Tuscany, Umbria, and Marche varies from bread that has a firm crust and dense crumb, to bread that has a crisper crust and more open texture, and in Rome, it is often seasoned with olive oil
, and marjoram
New variations of the recipe continue to be developed, wholemeal ciabatta are known as ciabatta integrale and when milk
is added to the dough, it becomes ciabatta al latte.
In Argentina, sandwiches made of ciabatta are very popular, especially those containing minute steak.
Ciabatta bread was introduced to the United Kingdom in 1985 by Marks & Spencer, then brought to America in 1987 by Orlando Bakery, a Cleveland firm. They brought over three bakers from Italy to develop the product and adapt it to mass production. They successfully introduced a fresh bread, then later, a frozen version. It was quickly copied throughout the United States.
The more open-crumbed form, which is usual in the United States, is made from a very wet dough, often requiring machine-kneading, and a biga or sourdough starter.