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KMS's picture

Interview with Olivier: Part I

(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.

Katina Buckner's picture
Katina Buckner

Newbie...Can I use a glass loaf pan for sourdough bread?

I have a sourdough starter ready to go but I can only find one of my small metal loaf pans. Can I use a glass loaf pan? I also have one long metal loaf pan that is 4" by 16" and 4 " deep. My recipe makes two loaves of 4" x 8" and 2 3/4" deep pan. Can I put the whole recipe in the long pan since it is deeper and it cook correctly? If so do I change the temp of my oven and length of time?

First time doing this. Thank you for your help.

christinepi's picture

another disaster

I have had reasonably good success with breadtopia's sourdough no knead method recipe. Great crust, but dense-ish. I always followed this recipe:

66 g starter at 100% (1/4 cup in the recipe, and in my case it amounts to 66g)

300g white bread flour

143g whole wheat bread flour

343g water

1.5 tsp salt

I mix this at 6pm, let it ferment until 9am, food it once, let it sit 15 minutes, then shape and let it final proof for 70 minutes.

I feed my starter twice a day, at 1:1.5:1.5. It rises and generally behaves predictably.

Elsewhere on this website I found a suggestion for someone who largely follows the same recipe. The suggestion said this wasn't enough starter in proportion to the dough. He said to feed 40g starter ( in the morning before the day of baking) with 91g of flour and 91g of water; then in the evening, make the dough (with 40g taken out of it for the next starter) with 182g of starter, while taking out those 91g of water and 91g of flour out of the recipe.

In other words, I used 300+143-91=352g of white flour, 143g of whole wheat, and 343-91=252g of water. However, as I was mixing the 182g of starter with the water and remaining flour, I realized if I used all of the 252g of water I'd end up with soup, so I retained ca 10g water, and it still was goop. That was one problem. I did this at 8pm.

The other may have to do with the starter: it took a long time to peak. I assume this is because the ratio was different, since it was 1:2.27:2.27 (40:91:91). I stuck it in a box at initially ca 77 degrees, and after ca 4-5 hours I turned it up to 84 degrees, and it still took 10 hours--is that normal?

Anyway, when I approached the fermenting dough in the morning, at 8am, there was hardly any life in it. It had risen, but not as much as normal. Very few bubbles. I waited until 11am, a few bubbles appeared. I decided to get it out of the bowl to get on with the day. The texture was such that it seemed to tear more easily than normal when I tried to s+f it. And it was sticky as heck. I did two s+f's 10 minutes apart, and let it final proof for 2 hours. Nothing. Never rose, an poking it was like poking a bit of wet, compacted dirt. Total frustration. What on earth went wrong this time??

I just stuck it in the oven. I hope maybe at least it won't be a tooth breaker. 

Update: took it out of the oven and it's tiny. Haven't cut into it yet.

Also: when I make the "original" recipe with the 66g starter, I don't subtract flour from the rest, although I don't use the full 343g of water--maybe more like 336g. 


DAB's picture

Hello from Dorset, UK

Well my real name is David, I'm from Dorset in the United Kingdom, and I'm 28 years old.
I have just started to make bread for the first time, since learning to make bread a very long time ago in school. The bread I have decided to make is Rye Bread. I've just taken my second attempt out of the oven.

The recipe I'm using is here
I haven't had great success with it. I did exactly as the instructions said, when I made my first loaf. The loaf didn't rise to the top of the tin, when being proofed.

So on my second attempt I actually did exactly what my yeast manufacturer instructions instructed to get the yeast started before adding to the rest of the ingredients. The loaf rose to the exact same point, but a lot quicker this time.
I have not long taken my second loaf out of the over and letting it cool. I have compared the recipe I am using to other Rye recipes. To me the recipe I used whilst being compared to other Rye Bread recipes doesn't use nearly enough yeast.

The yeast I am using is Allison dried active yeast. If I go by the instructions on the Allisons yeast. The ratio of yeast to flower is 130:3. So if I'm using 300 grams of flower I should use 7 grams of yeast! Not the mere 3 grams the author of the original recipe suggests.

Would be good to hear all your thoughts too!

Behnam's picture

dough doesn't rise after shaping!

Hey friends!!

Well, the title says it all, but let me explain more!

I've been baking for almost about a year now, and one of my favorite breads so far has been the Italian Bread, found on this website...

Now, I've made this bread around 12~13 times now, with no problems, and it always turned up amazing, until the last three tries...

1st Failed Attempt: Made the dough with malt powder (which is quire rare in Iran, by the way), it doubled in size nicely during primary fermentation, also rose great when I punched it down. Now when I tried to shape it, it had TONS of, I repeat, TONS of little bubbles around, I thought to myself, "Hey, that's good right? open crumb ftw!" so I deflated the dough a little as I shaped it, and I set it aside to rise.... Well, guess what, it didn't rise! I left it out for 3 hours, and it didn't  even show signs of life! I decided to put it in the fridge and see if it rises in there, and well, as you can already tell, nothing happened :(

2nd Failed Attempt: I decided to make it without malt powder, thinking it will rise nicely like the other times, and, uh, well, it didn't rise after shaping.... Weird....

3rd Failed Attempt: I decided to make the bread with more preferment (4 cups flour - 3 cups water - 1/4tsp yeast) and it still didn't rise after shaping


Now this is fairly new to me, why should the dough rise during its primary fermentation, but doesn't even show signs of life after shaping? Has anyone had this problem before? Any idea what I might be doing wrong?

This has really got me depressed!!


golgi70's picture

Farmer's Market Week 30 (Sunflower Sour)

30 weeks since I started this now tradition. I've had this idea on my mind a while.  I've eaten this bread at a few bakeries and they vary from sweet levain style to slightly enriched pan breads.  I thought I'd start with a light rye sour as the base.  The end results are pretty tasty.  The 30 percent of Whole Rye brings a great sweetness to the loaf but since 22% is prefermented for 15 hours it also brings a lovely sour flavor to the loaf.  The toasted sunflower pairs as it does in Volkornbrots.  Sweet crunchy crust, soft almost fluffy fine crumb laden with toasted seeds.  I took a guess with 80% hydration which could easily go a bit higher.  Just to open the loaf a touch more.  Otherwise this is a good loaf.  I scaled my loaves at 800g and also think a larger loaf would be better.  So I'll scale for 2 larger loaves below


Sunflower Sour 

Rye Sour (22% PF @ 70F for 12-15 hours)
20 Seed
200 Whole Rye
200 H20
76.4   Whole Rye
668   Bread Flour (11.5% protein)
553.6  H20
23.6   Salt
196   Sunflower Seeds, toasted
total flour: 954.4 (22% PF) (30% Whole Rye, 70% Bread Flour (11.5% protein))
total h20 763.6 (80% Hyd)                         (I think I'd increase this to 83-85% next time around) 
total dough 1937.6 (2 @ 968g)

Happy Baking All



yeast infection's picture
yeast infection

Blueberry jam fermented yeast culture?

I just found a jar of blueberry jam in the back of the fridge that smells wonderfully fermented, there looks to be a whitish/pale blue foam/slime stuff on it, I was wondering if/should I multiply the stuff, and how to do so?

Sarah J's picture
Sarah J

Im New!!! hi from the UK!

hi all im new to The Fresh Loaf. im a very good cake baker but bread i have always struggled with..... not that i have really given it many attempts. now i have nailed the basic sponge i have decided i should focus on bread for a new challenge. So bare with me folks, this could easily become the train wreck of bread baking!!! oh and im intolerant to wheat .... go figure! so my friends and family will be my primary test dummies as i can only eat a tiny bit without getting tummy ache.... poor them!  Hopefully i can look at other types of flours if i ever get the hang of this bread baking melarky! wish me luck!!!!   

Sarah x

aly-hassabelnaby's picture

Wholewheat Sourdough Malfunction

Hello everyone,

I have a young sourdough starter that I've used with plain flour quite a few times and it worked fine. So two days ago I decided to make a wholewheat sourdough loaf. I read a lot on TFL looking for help coming up with a formula and here's what I did. 

50 grams starter (50/50 starter)

100 grams WW flour

100 ml water + 5 grams molasses

I mixed that and left it at room temperature for about six hours then added the following

175 ml water + 375 grams WW flour + 10 grams salt

The whole thing was left overnight to ferment but I wasn't greeted with a risen dough in the morning. I did the stretch and fold several times during the day and every time I stretched it I could see it tearing apart. It was slowly puffing up throughout the day which gave me the confidence to keep going. 

Just before going to bed I went for another stretch and fold only to find that some of the water has leeched out of the dough. I did some quick kneading to re-integrate the water but it came back this morning. I shaped it into a batard as much as I could but it was still tearing apart and after almost two hours of bench proofing it was still basically the same size. 

I went ahead and baked it anyway with steam at my oven's maximum temperature and I pulled it out at an internal temperature of 94ºC. What came out was a tight brick like object with a nice aroma but little else. 

It's clear to me now that I must have done a few things wrong and that's why I am posting this here. Any advice is much appreciated. 

dmsnyder's picture

San Francisco-style Sourdough with Increased Whole Wheat

I usually make this bread as  500g boules, but the beautiful large bâtards and miches I've seen  from Josh, Syd and others in the past week or so had me craving a larger loaf. So this 1kg bâtard was baked this afternoon, and it is good. I think it's kind of pretty, too.

The formula for this bread is in San Francisco-style Sourdough Bread with increased whole wheat flour, except I boosted the hydration by about 30g or so. I've been doing that pretty regularly. I'll have to actually weigh the additional water and recalculate the hydration one of these days. I'm guesstimating it is about 81%.

I baked this loaf at 460dF with steam for 15 minutes, then at 435dF Convection for another 20 minutes.

Happy baking!