In 2014, retired professional baker Melvyn Waite sent us a postcard about the loaf life of his adopted home.
Having moved to the Costa Blanca, in 2011 I built a small, wood-fired brick oven, mainly as an interest for me. I was soon overwhelmed with requests for Real Bread from my neighbours, all fellow British ex-pats, which I now do on a small scale once a week.
As a retired baker, I was interested to explore the state of pan (bread) in my new home and compare it with the UK. What I found was that the Spanish indeed do love their bread and still hold in very high regard as a nourishing food, which is served with every meal. It even plays a part, and is celebrated, in some of their many fiestas.
White wheat flour is used for most of the bread produced. Although seeded and wholemeal loaves are made, and rye bread is also available especially in the Costa areas where many north- and east European immigrants live, this all amounts to less than 10% of all bread eaten.
Unlike the UK, many people still buy their bread from small, traditional panaderias, the majority of which have fewer than ten employees. Much of the traditional baking appears to be carried out without steam injection and at slightly lower temperatures than would be common in the UK. This tends to produce a bread with a very thick, dry, biscuit-type crust, which the Spanish seem to love, but is not always so popular with the large expat community here on the Costa Blanca.
The most common bread shape is the baguette-like barra or pistola. Smaller versions of these are used to make bocadillos, which are similar to American sub roll sandwiches, with various fillings. A popular breakfast is tostada con tomate, a toasted slice of a country-style loaf, rubbed over with fresh garlic and a fresh tomato. The rough toasted surface grates the garlic and tomato into a tasty topping, in the same way as Italian bruschetta.
Among artisan bakeries, there is a growing trend to produce more sourdough bread, or pan de masa madre as it is called here in Spain, but is still hard to find in some areas.
In the rural areas of Spain, many people are still comparatively poor, and still get their bread in the same way as they always have: from small village bakeries, in the main using wood-fired ovens. Most of the fermentation is carried out with commercial rather than wild yeast, but the majority of bread in the rural areas certainly qualifies as Real Bread, with a good use of preferments and long-time doughs to produce good flavour.
As in UK, large factories in Spain do make a product they market as ‘bread’, but is a poor imitation of the real thing. The sliced, sandwich loaves are called pan de molde, the biggest manufacturer of which is the Mexican-owned Bimbo - both names that certainly made me smile! However, unlike the UK, industrial loaves only account for a minority of the market – less than 20%.
Pre-shaped dough, frozen for baking in store at supermarkets etcetera, is available in large towns and cities. I am not aware of any movement in Spain similar to the Real Bread Campaign in the UK at the moment at least. Perhaps people do not see this as threat to their Real Bread or local bakeries.
I miss some things from the UK, but we have a very good community spirit here, and at least my neighbours and I can enjoy Real Bread from my oven. All we need now is for one of them to start a real ale microbrewery!
Originally published in True Loaf magazine issue 21, October 2014.