500 grams/18 ounces cheddar cheese
250 grams/9 ounces whole meal flour
15-20 bay leaves
Grate the cheese. Beat the egg. Knead the grated cheese with the flour and
beaten egg. This is hard work, but has to be done by hand, as a food
processor merely swirls the ingredients round and does not combine them.
Use your fingertips to mix the cheese and flour together into the consistency
of bread crumbs, then gradually knead the small lumps into a larger mass,
until you have made the required dough. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin
until it is roughly 1/2 centimeter/1/3 inch thick. Make 15-20 rounds with
a pastry cutter. Lay each disk on a bay leaf, place on an oiled baking tray,
and cover the tray tightly with silver foil to retain the moisture. Bake in an
oven at 190 centigrade/380 fahrenheit/gas mark 5 for 40 minutes. Serve warm.
--Mark Grant, Roman Cookery, Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens, 1999, pp. 59-60.
Recipe no. 2
1 & 1/2 lb (700 g.) ricotta or other soft cheese
2 cups flour
2-3 bay leaves per loaf
Mix the ingredients as prescribed in the recipe and form small loaves,
placing bay leaves beneath each one. bake in a medium oven (350 fahrenheit)
for around 30 minutes.
--Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, translated by Annaherklotz, A Taste of Ancient Rome, 1992, p. 169. Originally published as A cena da Lucullo: Come cucinare oggi i piatti dell'antica Roma, 1986.
Above are two recipes for libum made with cheese. Both Grant and Giacosa created their recipes from the same description of them by Cato in On Agriculture. "Make a libum thus: thoroughly grind 2 librae of cheese in a mortar. When it is well-ground, add 1 libra of fine flour or, if you want, [the loaf to be] softer still, 1/2 libra of finest flour; mix well with cheese. Add 1 egg and mix well. Then form a loaf, placing bay leaves beneath. Cook slowly under a testo on a hot hearth." A key difference is the type of cheese used. Neither author, of course, can say what type was used, as Cato gives no indication.
The testo was a domed, earthenware cover used for a baking dish. Embers were placed over and under this dish to bake on the hearth. According to Grant, "Kinta Bevor describes the making of focaccette in the Italy of the 1960s by a process which seems remarkably similar to that of libum." (p. 59) Giacosa explained, "This bread is called libum (related to libare to make an offering) because it was also used as a sacrificial offering. The farmer, for whom Cato wrote these recipes, was expected to make ritual sacrifices to the Lares..." (p. 169) Apparently these libum or cakes were served at the feast of the Compitalia. Grant stated this bread was also served as a birthday cake.
There must have been more than one kind of liba or libum, sacred cakes. There are references to old women selling honey cakes, liba, sacred to Liber Pater, grilled over stoves during the festival of the Liberalia. Other references indicate liba were made with salted, boiled wheat.
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