The upper crust

In Asturias, bread taste likes bread. Man may not live by bread alone, but up in Santa Eufemia it is so good, you may well be tempted to try…

I met Elena a few months ago. She and her husband Antonio live in a tiny little hamlet in Los Oscos, a mountainous region of outstanding natural beauty characterized by lush green mountainsides, meandering rivers, deep valleys, ancient oak forests and spectacular waterfalls. It’s also an area of traditional architecture, where the houses are still made of wood, stone and slate.

This land was isolated for decades due to poor road communications, so the people who used to live there needed to be pretty self-sufficient food wise. Now, although there is a good road network providing easy access to larger towns with shops and cafes and all the mod cons, Elena and Antonio have continued the tradition of making weekly bread in a wood fired oven.

In days of yore, all the houses in the area usually had a wood fired oven, with the local water mill being used by the neighbors to grind wheat, rye and corn. The 17th century water mill in Santa Eufemia is well worth a visit, along with the little museum that tells the history of bread. And, as I discovered, there’s more to bread than meets the eye!

Elena and Antonio bake bread every Saturday for the locals. It takes a long time making it the traditional way, but believe me, once you’ve tasted it fresh out of the oven, you’ll be hooked!

When I first met this lovely couple, they invited me to actually watch the baking process, and I must admit I had no idea what was involved. The yeast takes two weeks to ferment, after which the ingredients are mixed and kneaded together. Then the dough is left to rise for a few hours. Once the loaf is in the oven, the bricks go red then black and finally white when the maximum temperature is reached, that’s 340º. The bread took about an hour to cook, during which time we visited the water mill and chatted about all the traditional food that is made in the area (cheeses, sausages, jams…). Then back to the kitchen where Elena took the bread out of the oven, giving the loaves a rap with the knuckles to check they were done, after which she placed them on the beautiful old farmhouse table, covering each loaf with a crisp cotton cloth, waiting to be devoured.

Nothing beats the smell of freshly baked bread, and needless to say it was so mouth watering I didn’t even make it back to my car with my two loaves intact… I just couldn’t resist biting into that crunchy crust. Oh man, that has to be the best bread ever…




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