"a city that, in its town hall square, erects a monument to the glory of an octopus is from a country of high civilization"
Jacques ROURE - writer from Sète
Not only has the town of Séte erected an octopus in the town hall square, but it also perpetuates its emblem through one of its typical gastronomic specialities.
The "tielle de pouffre"... because in Sete, the octopus is called "lou pouffre"...
This magnificent pie came to us from Italy at the end of the 19th century, in the luggage of Italian emigrants from GAETA north of Naples.
The tial comes undoubtedly from GAETA but more precisely from the small fishing village of BORGO de GAETE which under the Spanish domination in the century of Charles V was frugally feeding its children who tried as best as they could to resist the invader.
Spread dough, a little oil, a few anchovies and olives, the ancestor of pizza was the ordinary ...
However, the natives soon noticed that the Iberian soldier made more or less the same thing, but with a lid of dough on top.
It certainly amused them, but they realized that this thing would keep longer than their quick-drying pizza.
At the time when refrigerators didn't exist, this was very important, especially when you were at sea for several days... So the Italians copied their invaders by covering their pizza.
The technique was perfected and for practical reasons the pizza was no longer put directly on the oven floor but in a terracotta dish called "TEGLIA"...and the "tielle" was born.
If you go to Spain ask for an empanada and you'll understand...
In GAETA the tile is declined in several ways, according to the words of the natives of the place, there are the tile of the sea, with octopus, sardines, anchovies, shrimps, mussels etc... and the tile "from the land" with escarole and pine nuts, eggs and zucchini.
In Sete, only the octopus tielle was famous.
At the beginning of their settlement in Sète, the Gaetan fishermen used to make the tielle as in their motherland and when the children went to school, the mother often put a tielle of pouffe in the schoolbag made of pieces of old veil sewn together, today the elders tell us that at school they used to hide to eat it because the other little Sète children ate croissants from the baker.
The tielle was the commonplace of the sinners settled in the high district where the Italian community was grouped, compared to the opulent Sète society enriched by the wine trade, it was a poor district where they lived according to their customs and spoke Neapolitan.
Most of the food was from the fishing that the father brought home.
These fishermen rarely went down to the city and the beautiful Sétoise society of the time did not know the tielle, which was seen as the food of the poor.
In the 30's, Adrienne PAGES born in Agde held with her husband Bruno VIRDUCCI, a southern Italian, a small shellfish stall in front of the civet bridge under the sign of "La Reine des Mers".
Her pies were famous in the neighborhood, she baked them at LUBRANO the baker in rue Garenne .
The Sète housewives began to appreciate the thing and regularly asked for more, so much so that the baker was overwhelmed by Adrienne's visits and a solution had to be found. It was his son-in-law, Mimi Cianni, who in 1937 decided to go to the Marseilles fair to buy a suitable oven that was installed on the ground floor of the house.
And that's how the story began... by making this poor man's dish, Adrienne had no idea that the golden age of this magic pie was beginning!
Adrienne had many children, she then moved her small business in front of LA MARINE's bar, but it was not until her young son Achille who first set up a small artisanal factory under the stairs of the main street on the fish market plan.
In the 60's, he had Sandrine SPOSITO as a worker who made drawers for 50 years... This small production was sold at the shellfish stall of her sister Raymonde who had taken over from her mother next door.
We can say that if it is to Adrienne VIRDUCCI that we owe the diffusion of the tielle in the Sète society, it is to Achille her son that we owe the first artisanal manufacture.
A few years later, Achilles took a wife and also created his own shell stall where he put his tins for sale. In her turn, her sister Raymonde set up a very small workshop in her seashell hut "La Reine des Mers" where her worker David Conesa worked.
Until the 1970s, these were the only places where you could find tiaras in the city of Sete.
Two of Adrienne's other daughters then embarked on the adventure of the tielle.
One married a DASSE, and the other one a CIANNI...that's why today you will still find grandchildren and great grandchildren at the helm of the artisanal factories DASSE, VIRDUCCI and CIANNI... because the Sète tial is the prerogative of a dynasty, that of Adrienne and Bruno VIRDUCCI and their descendants who all inherited the recipe and the know-how....
Where to buy Tielles ? : List of Sètois tiellists
Cooking a Tielles : The recipe of the tielle
Thanks to Jean Brunelin - Head, author, photographer and creator of the Facebook group "Défendons la cuisine Sétoise et Méditerranéenne"