The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

KMS's blog

KMS's picture

Reblogged from:

I decided to debut Olivier’s flour at Utopiana, making sourdough with it for the dinner that we organized to follow Sandrine Teixido and Aurelien Gamboni’s presentation on Wednesday of their research project Maelström. Olivier had warned me that the flour made for a sticky dough, and ohhh he was right. I didn’t take any photos of the mess it created, hands being covered in dough and all. It was chaos.

Things started out fine. Shaped small loaves:

image (41)


This I did because I could already tell as soon as I started working the dough after its proofing that my novice hands would never manage to shape such a big, unwieldy mass of dough into one loaf. But as the dough rested it expanded in size with an alien speed — I feel like I turned my back for all of five minutes and it was already creeping off the sides of the pan. And by the way, I recognize that the pan was way too small, but I’ve always been one of those people who does dumb things like put too much bread dough on a too-small pan in the name of getting it all done at once; like I always try to carry too much stuff in my arms at once and then wind up dropping half of it along the way. “Make two trips!” my mom used to say. (Actually, she still says that.)

I threw the six loaves back into the mixing bowl and started reforming them into a bunch of little rolls, and instead of smartly dividing them into two pans I put them all back onto the same pan. I’m not sure what law of geometry I was trying to break there, but I didn’t succeed. I put the pan in the oven, and five minutes later my friend Hannah squatted down to check its progress and shrieked. “Kate!! Is it supposed to do that??” No, no it wasn’t. The rolls had nearly doubled in size upon meeting the heat of the oven, but with no crust formed the ones along the edges had started to drip off the sides and onto the oven rack and floor, and I swore profusely as I struggled to yank the tray from the oven. Then I was standing there with a burning hot metal pan in my hands and like six people packed around me in the tiny kitchen, but somehow I managed to scoop the sough back into the bowl without burning anyone. I wasn’t really sure what to do next, so I did what one does in situations like these and opened a beer.

I decided finally that I was going to need to do this in shifts, and also maybe figure out a different form since the dough was already overworked and would possibly refuse to rise much after yet another shaping. So I made small, flat rounds and tried shaping them like fougasse, but with such sticky dough my “fougasse” wound up looking like lotus root gnawed on by rodents. By this point I was missing a lot of Sandrine and Aurelien’s presentation. Part way through the baking Anna (who’s Armenian) came into the kitchen to check how things were going, and when she saw the bread she exclaimed happily, “Oh! It’s just like the bread they make in Georgia!” I resisted the urge to act like that was what I’d been going for all along.

Then they stuck to the pan.

image (42)

Let’s just … not talk about that.

In the end, when I finally got all the loaves in and out of the oven and I sat down with a thump at the dinner table, I was surprised to discover that the actual taste and texture of this very ugly bread was really not bad at all, and during dinner everyone kept saying how good it was. It went quickly, provoking a four-way argument over who got the last piece, and so I took that to mean that the appreciation was genuine. Though I have yet to meet anyone who’s not appreciative of any sort of homemade bread. That’s the beauty of bread, we love it even when it’s ugly.

KMS's picture

Reblogged from:

(Part 1) & (Part 2)

We went a bit off topic after the point where I left off, so, getting back to things…

Olivier: We can’t get to everything in one day, you should come back this summer, to see the mill and the other things we have going on here.

Me: You use a stone mill?

Olivier: Yep, stone mill, it’s about five kilometers from here, at my friend’s place. I use that, I can’t do everything here by myself so I’ve got Raphael (his neighbor) and his mother and father who help with things.

Me: Do you make bread too?

Olivier: Not really but I can. We’ve got flour here after all! I’ll give you some before you go, I can give you a bag of durum flour.

Me: Really! I’d love that. (Note: I was sent away with three kilos plus two bags of the pasta the intern was weighing out. The flour’s already been made into dough, slow-proofing in the fridge right now to be baked this afternoon. Report to come.) You know, I also had some questions about quantities when you’re growing wheat… so for, say, one hectare, I imagine that it depends, what sort of quantity of wheat do you wind up with?

Olivier: An old wheat variety … harvesting or planting?

Me: Harvest.

Olivier: Harvesting, right. If it’s good land, one ton up to four tons.

Me: Seriously!

Olivier: Yeah, four tons the hectare, normally I can manage that. But we seed five kilos. So with five kilos of seed, I can get four tons of harvest. But with some other varieties, I’ll get two tons. The more ancient the species, the smaller the harvest. Plus you’ve got to adapt the cultivation methods.

Me: And so then with conventional wheat?

Olivier: Conventional wheat? Modern, you mean?

Me: Yeah.

Olivier: With modern wheat I’ve managed to get up to eleven tons the hectare. Big difference.

Me: It is. Understandable why most farmers plant the modern varieties.

Olivier: And with the modern varieties you have to treat the fields. Two herbicides, two fungicides, a fertilizer, that makes five products you’ve got to put on the cultivation.

Me: Do you use any of that?

Olivier: Nothing with the ancient grains. Down at the end of the fields, where I have the conventional wheat, I use one herbicide. But it’s still better than organic, because for an organic label you can use more products than that, but I don’t.

Me: And you’re interested in getting organic labeling?

Olivier: Not at all. I know what I’m doing, so why bother? You can go buy an organic vacuum cleaner if you want, what does organic really mean?

Me: Ha, well I’m asking, because in the US it costs a bit of money for a farmer to get organic labeling, so you’ve got some people farming in a way that is very much “organic” but they don’t have the label because they can’t or don’t want to handle the cost, deal with the bureaucracy. And anyway there are such huge loopholes in the regulations for what qualifies as organic that the label is really pretty much meaningless.

Olivier: Exactly, and that’s why I say to myself that, ethically, even if it could be a help for financial security, I don’t do it. I’ve got my clients who come here, and they deal with me, no one else. No dealing with stores, everything works directly between them and me.

Me: How did that come about?

Olivier: Just does. Someone develops allergies or gets sick from the mass produced stuff and they find me, and they tell other people. (True — since my afternoon with Olivier I’ve given his name to three people I know who have problems with gluten.) Word of mouth, at a human scale. If you’re my client and you come to me today, I’ll tell you come back in July and I’ll show you, that wheat there, that field there, you see it, you’re going to eat it, it’s going to pass through your body in six months. Big difference from going to one of these massive grocery stores – doo doo doo! Aisle five, 50% off all our flour!

You know I say all this, I was deep into intensive farming before, and the more I intensified the production, the less I got paid for my product. I said to myself, those people don’t need us. If they’re going to do it like that, they have no need for me, so I’m going to do it without them. If everyone like us turned our backs on the powers, if we stopped giving importance to the people in charge, they’d have no power. It’s because we give them importance that they have power. But if you turn your back on them, they’re no longer important.

Me: Something I ask myself — I’m in total agreement with you, and there are some people who think like this too, but there’s a majority of people who don’t. I agree that it’s not possible to force a change in people’s ideas –

Olivier: No.

Me: But at the same time, if there’s no effort to discuss with “the others” it stays in the realm of “I change myself,” and we don’t change anything at a larger scale.

Olivier: Right, but for example, you heard about me on the radio. (I did, here.)

Me: Yes.

Olivier: If you hadn’t, you wouldn’t have found me.

Me: True.

Olivier: So I invest myself in this, I try to start conversations.

Me: No! I didn’t say you didn’t.

Olivier: No, no, I know that’s not what you’re saying. I’m saying that when I started, I was all alone. By myself with my wheat and a couple friends down the road. Today what do we have? We’ve got heritage wheat growing over there, another span of fields a bit farther away –

Me: Your neighbors are changing too?

Olivier: Some of them are, sure. When I started I had 4,000 square meters myself, now there are twenty hectares, or fifteen maybe, in the area. And more and more people are doing it. So right now, compared to five years ago, there is so much more. And the people who come here to buy from me, at the beginning I had one or two, and now I’ve got people coming every week. Some of them come and buy twenty kilos, some of them don’t go to the grocery store at all anymore. People who before couldn’t eat wheat bread and now they can, and they’re in good health. My friend with the mill, I went by the last time to ask how much I owed him for the milling, and he said, “This time it’s on me, because you gave me something else with what you’re doing. I’ve been having to take hypertension medication for so long and since I’ve been eating the grains you grow I haven’t needed to take anything. Since I started eating differently, I’ve been able to stop my medication. I feel good in my body.” That’s the way it is.

(to the intern, who was still working to fill up bags of pasta for sale) You like pasta?

Intern: Yep.

Olivier: Ho! Then it’s Carnevale for you today. And you know, with that pasta, you eat less than you would of the other stuff. Sticks to your ribs.

(to me) You like bread?

Me: I love it.

Intern: I’m getting tired.

Olivier: Looks like an office in here. Speaking of class warfare, you’ve got the class that fills up the pasta bags and the class that sits around and watches haha.

Me: Have pity on the worrrking man!

Olivier: Poor thing. At least she’s working at something that makes sense. No, but seriously, you know, as far as the goal of the farmer: I’ve been in conferences before where they always finish up by saying, “Ohh but why does organic cost more than conventional, why don’t we have it the other way around since it costs less to produce organic since we aren’t buying chemicals and fertilizers blah blah blah. The farmers must feed the world blah blah blah.” And I say, no. No no no no. This is not the issue we should be talking about. We should be discussing why we don’t live in a world where everyone is able to get by individually at basic things. Everyone should have the right to a bit of land, and be able to grow things for himself or herself and a family. It’s shouldn’t be put on the shoulders of only a few to feed everyone else, no. Everyone should have the capacity to be responsible for his own food, and then people wouldn’t need as much money, which doesn’t have any inherent value anyway. It’s just paper, founded on nothing really. We’re the ones who give it value. We live in a world where it’s completely the opposite of how it should be. In the big cities, you need money to live! People in cities can’t support themselves. But if everyone had just a little plot of space to grow things to eat, and knew what to do with it, we’d change a lot about how we live.

KMS's picture

Reblogged from:

Part 1 here:


When we left off, Olivier and I had started talking about multinationals’ hold on the free exchange and cultivation of seeds.

Olivier: I’m possibly going to have an opportunity to go to Iran. Apparently there’s a phenomenal museum there with a rich amount of information on the history of agriculture. We’ve got to discover those things.

Me: I was in Armenia this past August, and there apparently there are fields of wild wheat –

Olivier: Oh right, Aegilops? It was Aegilops?

Me: I’m not sure of the species off the top of my head. (Way to go Kate.) There was a conservation program during the Soviet era, and with the end the program was left to one side with all that happened after the fall. But it seems from what we found that these fields are still somewhere between Yerevan and Ararat. We went out looking for them, a bit blindly, and didn’t find anything. But that’s the story as we understand it, that the fields are out there practically on the side of the highway.

Olivier: Aegilops, it was most likely that. You know it’s the same thing with apple trees. The apple trees in Azerbaijan, there’s a fantastic genetic reserve, I’ve heard it’s really something.

Me: So the seeds you use here? You’ve got to start by getting them from somewhere established…

Olivier: National conservatories. Now they’re doing something else, with the seed banks. It first happened in the US, more of this bullshit. The big businesses, they go pick up seeds that are accessible for the public at large — it’s a common good. The corporations take the seeds and make a genetic profile of them, they file a patent, and then nobody else can use them without paying. Patenting a form of life.

Me: How do they justify that? They don’t change anything in the genetic makeup.

Olivier: They influence the state, they have lobbying power. They’re more powerful than the state.

Me: But wait — if I’m understanding correctly, they take seeds to do tests and make a genetic profile, and with that they say –

Olivier: That they own it.

Me: That’s insane! It’s like they take me and –

Olivier: Exactly, they take you, they do your genetic profile, and they say, “We own her. She doesn’t own herself, we own her.” It’s unbelievable. If you had told me this sort of thing five or six years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that such idiocy could be happening. It’s an instance of a fiction becoming real. But with these sorts of things, we can’t be afraid. We have to work together, pool our resources. Above all to not be alone. With us farmers, we’re there, we’re outdoors working, and the more we work together the more autonomous we become.

Me, personally, I’m looking for autonomy. I can’t quite do it yet because I have to work. It the current financial system, we’re obliged to do so. But we can still do things. I’ve got two hands and a head. And land, and forests, good land. That’s capital. And I’ve got seeds, and food, everything. I have an enormous potential. A richness in diversity. That’s what we don’t realize. It’s not necessary to have 10,000 square meters, but with an area of 5,000 or 10,000 square meters you can do big things. There are a lot of openings. It works if you’ve got two hands and a lot of motivation, and a vision of life and their future that’s open.

We must reappropriate knowledge, because we’re going to need it in the future. We think we’re all big and strong now, we think we’ve mastered everything. The reality is that civilization has never been so vulnerable. You don’t know how to make your clothes, feed yourself.

Me: What you were just saying, about not acting alone –

Olivier: Together, it’s got to be together.

Me: A question I ask myself a lot, because — a bit of my story — my research started off by taking a look at my CV, and if I really looked at what sorts of real capacities I had for producing life’s needs, it was nothing. I could edit a book for you if you happen to write a book, but more than that, forget it. I could cook okay, but besides that, when we get into production, food preservation for example, things like that, I had nothing. So I started to learn.

Olivier: Do you garden a bit?

Me: Yes, I garden.

Olivier: Me too, tomatoes and things, but I’m a bit late this year.

Me: Yeah, I share a plot in a community garden in Geneva, in the backyard of an cultural center.

Olivier: What’s it called?

Me: Utopiana. We started a community garden with some people in the neighborhood about a year ago and we’re organizing a whole program of activities around permaculture, ecology. And between now and toward the end of 2015 there are a number of artists coming for residency who work on those topics.

To be continued … I’m at Utopiana right now, we’re doing an open house with Natalia, and a whole mass of people just showed up! 

KMS's picture

(Reblogged from

Last week I spent an afternoon hanging out with Olivier, a farmer who grows ancient varieties of wheat and other grains, some of them existing since the time of the Gauls, in a little village outside Romont, Switzerland. I took the train out, he picked me up at the station, and we rode out to his farm to discuss wheat, bread, seeds and capitalism. 

Olivier: So here we have a ton of pasta. I prepare packages of 400 grams. The pasta’s made by a friend of mine who does organic cultivation next door, and uses my flour for the pasta. I don’t have a mill at the farm, but he has a big machine that he bought for making pasta, and a mill, we can go see it, it’s part of the process.

(a huge racket made by pouring out the dried pasta into a big plastic bowl for measuring) And there you go, this is great. We have a finished product, and there’s no middleman, nobody between us and the consumer.

(speaking to the farm intern who sat with us at the kitchen table filling up bags of pasta while we talked) So you put the bag there on the scale, take the scoop and measure out 400 grams into each bag and staple it shut, okay?

Student: Okay, great!

Olivier (to me): Anyway so I was saying there, there are 200 varieties of ancient wheat. We grow various kinds, and with them we arrive at a mixture of these different varieties to have a genetic potential that’s diversified. Mixtures are going to be more balanced because there are different sorts of wheat, each of which is going to contribute something. So it’s a question of letting nature do its thing. I don’t select, I don’t go looking for the stalks of wheat that I like –

Me: So wait, you don’t keep specific seeds from the year before — ?

Olivier: Exactly, I keep everything, all of it, seeds from the planting across the board. I’m not looking to make a particular selection myself. Let nature do the work.

Me: Letting it evolve on its own.

Olivier: Exactly. Of course, back in the day people chose seeds from certain stalks of wheat to keep, and that gave us the now established varieties. So now, I let it go on its own. The natural conditions are imposed — by the soil, by the environment, which is going to create a space that reinforces the conditions for growing, and for us. We live in this space, so we eat what grows in the region, which corresponds to our conditions of life. It’s a logic, a natural logic. That’s why I don’t intervene.

(taking one of the bags of pasta the intern was filling) That’s a good bundle, 400 grams. Pass me the stapler please? Voilà, finished.

Me: And you sell this in shops?

Olivier: Not at all. Not interested in being controlled. The best way to kill agriculture is with the law, specifically laws on hygiene. European laws are dismantling everything how it once was. (holding up the bag) You see, no labels, but there’s no need, this’ll keep for a year.

Me: You started talking a bit before about the story of how you got into doing all this …

Olivier: Right. And like I said, you need to know the story of where you came from in order to know where you’re going. The roots.

I did a class on the cultivation of ancient grains. I didn’t know anyone was doing that. When I saw the red stalks, it was superb. The guy doing it said to me, we do a bit of wheat, some corn, come back this summer and you’ll see my fields and my seed collection. When I went I was bowled over. There was a light breeze, bright sun, the wheat was beautiful. I arrived at the fields and it shocked me.

Me: And before you weren’t growing wheat?

Olivier: I was, but I was doing conventional varieties, before getting into this. With this, the wheat called to me, rather than me going to the wheat.

Me: Does ancient wheat look different than conventional?

Olivier: It’s has a different energy (laughs). The height, the color, the feeling. You can smell it. I can feel the difference, and it’s a question of having to do it — not that I “can” do it, but that I must, I don’t have a choice. It’s not something you can really explain. At the beginning I did 40,000 square meters, the guy gave me a bit of seed and I was growing it for myself. Then people were like, oh can I have a taste, that interests me, and then they started talking. And I had a friend who loved baking, and one day she said to me she had to stop because she had developed a grain allergy. She went on a diet and things started improving, but every time she had a slip it was catastrophic. We got to discussing the old grains I was growing, and she tried my flour with her recipes and there was no problem. After that she started sending me clients. They come get the flour and make bread with it, and when the bread is baked and they try it they’re so happy: “It’s so good, the crust crackles, it smells wonderful.” And it’s liberating for them, because they can eat normally with their families again.

Anyway all that is an issue of cell recognition — when you have an autoimmune disorder, your system rejects what it does not recognize as food. But someone can eat something for years, and then bam, they develop an allergy at fifty, seventy years old. And why? When people come here and they say they’re intolerant, allergic, I say to them “You’re not sick. You’re normal.” Your body has the best capacity of knowing what is good or bad for it, that’s all it is. When you’re eating nothing but chemicals, and it says Stop, it’s this reaction of developing this or that symptom that tells you to stop eating what you’re eating.

What I’ve understood is that six years ago they changed the bakery director at X (one of the big local grocery chains — I won’t name names here because I haven’t verified the information yet and don’t feel like getting sued for libel). The new head is someone who thinks like this (draws the outline of a tunnel in front of his face) and he decided to always have the same level of gluten in the flour. So they go to buy pure gluten in France, but it’s a low-quality gluten, and they add it to the bread they’re making. And the customers don’t know. And that’s why in the past five years or so there are more and more people reporting gluten intolerance. It’s insane.

Me: But why would they add in extra gluten?

Olivier: Because to make a ton or two tons of bread at the same time you need a very elastic flour. With a lower-gluten wheat, the strands of gluten tear, like ligaments that rip all by themselves, or like a meat that you have to gnaw on to be able to chew. The standard thing is to take the dough, roll it a bit, and put it in a machine with a lid that closes down around the dough, and then they inject pressurized air, which makes big boule. The bigger the boule the better it meets the selection criteria. But it’s really the opposite — with this sort of criteria, you get bread that you can’t digest anymore.

With the cultivation of (conventional) wheat, they make it so the molecules become larger. With a wheat, the molecules are smaller at the surface, and as we go into the seed the molecules become larger. With the treatment of wheat, nitrogen, ammonia, we make the molecules even larger. With an intensive selection process we increase the size even more. And what you get is something that our body no longer recognizes as nourishment. We’ve selected for mechanical criteria, for machines, instead of the criteria of our bodies. We select in relation to the capacity of a machine. It’s like you take carrots that don’t have any taste, that are disgusting, and you grow them anyway because they’re nice and straight and have the same shape, perfectly homogeneous. I’m talking about abusive selection here.

Me: And all that’s before we even get into playing around at the molecular level, adding built-in pesticides –

Olivier: Oh no, it’s all happening at the same time. A modern wheat, cultivated organically … the flour is fantastic. We need to stop there. I’ve still got a part of my land growing conventional wheat, and there we use one herbicide, but nothing on the rest. I’m transitioning progressively.

Me: How long ago did you start?

Olivier: Six years ago. Seven years ago there was nothing (in the way of ancient wheat). Now I’ve got a whole load of different varieties going. And I’m still learning.

Me: So what percentage is still conventional wheat?

Olivier: Mm… 40% conventional, 60% the old varieties. If we don’t plant this wheat today, it’s going to disappear forever. Some people say to me, “But yeah, what’s the use,” but I tell them, if I’m doing this today and I transmit it, in 10,000 years these wheat varieties might still be around for future generations. If I don’t do this today, if I take the easy way, all this will disappear. In 10,000 years it’s no longer there.

Me: Not even 10,000 years. More like a couple generations. I have a colleague who works on seed politics in Latin America, she’s Colombian –

Olivier: Oh god, in Colombia it’s catastrophic when it comes to this whole issue.

Me: Absolutely. The push to criminalize seed saving, banning the use of indigenous varieties –

Olivier: And who’s behind those laws? (I point my finger at myself, he laughs) The Yanks. (laughs again) No, that’s not fair. Really it’s the multinationals. But all these financial issues, they’re not really just financial. I’m sorry about that. I worked there (in North America) and I was really into it, I’m part of the generation whose grandparents lived through the war and the Americans were god for having liberated Europe. Then the manipulations that took place, economically, politically, it’s a bit different. I’m not trying to insult you, we’re just speaking candidly. Politically in Europe, the heads of the American government, the ones directing things, they’ve got a reputation here that’s absolutely catastrophic.


And on that uplifting note, I’m going to take a break from transcription (which is interesting but a little tedious) and come back later with the second half.

Subscribe to RSS - KMS's blog