It is the end of August and with the sun still high in the sky I sweep the sweat from my forehead heading towards Malga Castrin; a mountain hut high in the Dolomites of Trentino. A cow calmly watches me, ruminating enjoying the warm summer sun.
Erika Maiss had apparently seen me coming from afar and hapily walks out her Malga; “Ciao! In bici !?” Yes, I have indeed made the climb by bike. She gives me a glass of fresh milk from the cow that I passed by earlier. Together with her boyfriend she does not only run a mountain hut here, she also makes beautiful cheeses from the raw milk. Enthusiastic of the great flavors I take along ricotta, taleggio and a young cheese.
Now the nicest part comes. I just mounted new brake pads so my braking capacity has to be good. Wings! I feel like a small child in the toboggan run again, it’s going down so fast. Catching my breath for a moment at a beautiful village I notice a sign: “Biohofladen und bäckerei”. Curiously I drive down the narrow path. Wheat, buckwheat, a beautiful farm and a broken tractor. ”È rotto?”, I ask the older man who is busy tinkering his vehicle. “Si, ma niente di serio”. He asks me why I am coming, I explain that I am a baker and curious about the grains and The bakery… Another man walks towards us, clearly younger, and introduces himself: “Georg Weiss, benvenuto!” He explains that they are an organic farm where grains are grown, ground and baked. “Oh, and of course we have cattle, a number of cows and pigs.” The Weiss family really does everything themselves: “I still work just like my grandfather, only the mill now runs on electricity instead of water; the stream has fallen dry”. When Georg hears my story about Dutch windmills, he takes me to the mill. “Come on, we’re going the grind some spelt!”
A little later we walk through the fields where the last bits of grain are that still have to be harvested: wheat and buckwheat in its full splendor. “For the rest, you’re too late, that’s all just done.”
I see sparks of enthusiasm when I tell Georg about my passion for grain and bread: “Every Friday we bake bread from our own rye, in the home-made wood oven with a 70-year-old sourdough.” The sparks in Georg’s eyes must also have been seen in mine, because it is now Tuesday and I am being persuaded to bake next Friday. Georg lets me taste a piece of his rye bread: tough but very light in taste. “You can eat it fresh, or let it dry in the oven, so it can be kept for months and is delicious with a little bit of bacon.” The bread, consisting of two rye doughs melted together, reminds me of the Vinscher Paarl: a typical bread from the neighboring Val Venosta.
At the farmyard, Maso Roatnocker’s youngest resident cheerfully cuddles in the sun. Filled with happiness and with freshly ground spelt flour in my backpack, I continue my descent, looking forward to a good baking session in a few days…
It is Friday. Just after sunrise I cycle through the forest to Georg’s farm. At the time I arrive at Maso Roatnocker I find a huge bowl of spicy smelling rye dough. 30 kilos of rye flour, plus the weight of the water, salt and brotklee is hand-folded by Georg’s wife. The dough was kneaded at six o’clock this morning and is kept at the right temperature by the warming wood oven.
This bread has been leavening for decades with the same sourdough that was once started by Georg’s mother. With each dough the leftovers are stored, dried, and brought to life a day in advance in a bucket with water and rye flour.
Brotklee. I ask Georg what this is exactly and he keeps it short: “Just go outside, my wife shows you.” A small plant that looks clover-like grows in the garden. Looking thoughtfully, Margareth explains to me that this is indeed a kind of clover: “We grow it here ourselves, on a small field, then it is dried.” The taste is spicy and earthy. “Originally it comes from the Middle East, but it has been a tradition for hundreds of years to use it: a nice addition to the sweet-sour taste of mountain rye and it gives the bread just that little bit more flavor”.
Around eleven o’clock Georg starts to throw more and more wood into his oven; “Are we going to bake?” I ask enthusiastically. “No, I think around two o’clock.” he says. “But the oven is big and I want him to be able to bake all the breads at a good temperature,” he says. From the oven to his dough and back … I recognize the fash in Georg. He is waiting for the ideal moment to start the second proofing. I mess around with my camera, watch the photos I made and suddenly Georg jumps up: he calls Margareth and the little bakery is on full steam! I help with the flowering of the racks while the couple prepares the first doughs for the final phase of leavening.
“In pairs, because that’s the tradition”. Skillfully Georg puts light tension on the dough. Because only rye flour is used, he does not want to damage the fragile gluten network too much. The shelves are loaded with dough in fast pace.
By the time Margareth and Georg have shaped more than 100 doughs, quietness returns to the bakery and they leave the dough for what it is. A simple pasta with bacon from their own pigs (smoked in the bakery) is placed in front of me on a table in the middle of the farmyard. The parents and sons join the meal and everyone enjoys the warm sun and a steaming plate of pasta.
As quickly as the meal came, everything is cleaned up again. Georg walks away: inspecting his first doughs. He starts burning a small fire in the mouth of the oven while the big fire goes out and he cleans the oven floor. “I keep the oven on temperature this way”, we have to bake for another four hours … “Visibly tense, Georg takes the first plank with proofed dough, lays the dougs gently on the shooter and slides them into the oven. Because of the relatively small doughs, baking time is short. So hard work.
While Georg is busy with the oven, Margareth shapes the last loafs. Meanwhile, the baking room fills with a sweet and spicy scent of rye flour, sourdough and brotklee. No wonder that the pasta was so delicious, the bacon, which hangs in the same place, gets this treatment every Friday! Georg puts the first breads upside down on shelves to let the heat evanesce.
We become small children again, Georg and I agree that taking bread out of the oven is one of the most beautiful things in life. He breaks a fresh loaf half open and shows me the structure. Rye that grows next to your house, ground in your own mill and baked in the wood oven under your house: enchanting.
While Georg continues baking, I put the loaves in wooden racks. Fresh they are great, but the taste really comes forward when all the moisture is out. A kind of biscuit, with a brittle spicy inside and a smoky exterior. I might become a mountain farmer in Trentino…
More information about the Weiss family: www.roatnocker.it