Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How we change the (food) world


And with “we” I mean you and me. With every decision we make when shopping for food we have an impact on the way food is produced, marketed and sold. We can not afford to think that we are not part of it. The food world has producer, supplier and consumer. All three roles define the world of food as a product.

I would like to use the bakery business and the baking industry as an example. My example is located in Germany, the country where I was born and grew up. Don’t think this is far away and doesn’t affect us here. This is wrong, the situation the bakeries are in Germany is replicated around the world and all across the entire food industry.

Bakers and bakeries go back almost 8,000 years. The oldest remains of a bakery was found in Egypt and dates from 3,000 BC. The German Bakery Haeberlein-Metzger has its roots in 1492 and is still operating.

When I was a boy of 6 years of age we had many bakeries in the small village I grew up in. One bakery was across the school and made a whopping business with us kids. And after school I bought the bread and buns my mum wrote down on a piece of paper. There were about 5 different types of bread, maybe 4 - 5 different kinds of buns and rolls and cakes and Danish etc. Our village also had many other shops, two butchers, one or two grocery stores, a dairy shop where you got milk from the pump and loose cheese. There was no supermarket in sight.

10 years later, the landscape had changed. The village grew into a little town, supermarkets moved in, packaged bread became available but the bakeries were still there. Most of them. One or two gave up because the owner retired and the children didn’t’ have an interest in getting up at midnight and bake bread. They rather went to bed at midnight (or sometimes later). The bread range increased to about 10 - 15 different bread types, a lot of them with added grains. But we still had bakeries run by a baker.

Fast forward another 10 years. Many family owned bakeries have closed. The bread range is huge. Shelves are loaded with breads from all across Europe. 10 or so different types of rolls and buns. Baguette, Italian flat breads, wholegrain, white loaves, dark loaves, pumpernickel, sourdough, half wheat / half rye. Pretzels, buns with poppy seeds, buns with sesame, buns with oats, buns with a mix of grain, buns with sunflower seeds.  A number of bakeries jumped onto this bandwagon. Opened branches, grew bigger, had central bakeries and delivered their bread by truck to the number of branches they had all across the region. Franchising was the word.

Today? Bakeries are almost extinct. People buy their bread in Bakery Supermarkets like “Back-Werk” (BakeAndTake in the UK), Back-Factory and “Back-Koenig” who all have double figure growth rates. The range is huge, no small bakery can afford to offer 20 different types of breads, 10 - 20 different kinds of buns. The prices are below rock bottom.  Bread and buns and all other products are baked on site. But are they made on site?

No, a recent German documentary I watched (“Billige Broetchen” - Cheap Buns (Movie in German only)) shows how it works. Huge factories which look like oil refineries are located in low wage countries like Poland. They produce 1.5 Mill. buns a day, pre-baked, frozen, stored for up to 9 months and shipped around Europe, delivered to bakery-franchises, put in a bake-off oven and sold as fresh buns to customers. For a quarter of the price you would pay in a small family bakery. The owner of one of these bread-supermarkets interviewed in the documentary wasn’t even a baker, he was a gas and heating plumber. The ingredients are lab-tested and adjusted using artificial flavours and enhancers.

Digest these numbers: In the documentary a company owner was interviewed saying they sell 7 Mill. deep frozen buns per month alone in Berlin of one product. The company Diversi Foods in Poland has an immense range of breads. They produce 1.5 million buns a day. And that’s only one of their products. If you want to have a look inside, here is their company video: . Compare this with a village bakery and you understand the unbearable pressure small businesses are under.

The owner of Diversi foods blames the consumer (“Geiz ist Geil” - “Stinginess is Cool” a slogan under which many Germans currently live and consume) for the decline of the German bakery business.

German’s Bakeries are dying. This is a fact. They can’t find apprentices nor can they afford them. Most of them are reduced to husband and wife operations, often working 16 - 20 hours day in shifts. A pretzel selling for 0.50 EUR in a bakery is on offer for 0.08 EUR in a big franchise operation. The biggest food discounter Aldi recently introduced “Backstationen” Baking Stations. The shopper presses a button and out comes the bun or bread. And all for a price way below the material cost a conventional baker has. Many of my German countrymen and women think Aldi should open in New Zealand (they are already in Australia). I had some very heated discussions because I believe it would destroy the remainder of our food system. I think it is a very selfish dream to ask for food which is cheaper than anyone can produce it. That’s the concept of Aldi. You think the Warehouse is bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet!

So who really is to blame. Of course there are the producers and suppliers who want to make a profit. Why should they care about some small outdated family businesses? But what about us? What about the consumer? Aren’t we part of this, too? Aren’t we actually a big part of this? Does it make sense that we ask for cheaper and cheaper products? Do we actually care where our food comes from, who made it, who makes money with it? Or is all we care about what we can buy as cheap as possible. Are we aware that this is actually a self-contained system? You apply pressure at one end and pressure comes out the other end? Why are we surprised that we have so many food scandals. Why are we still surprised by the usage of 2.9 Mill. tons of antibiotics in the production of beef alone in the US? Why are we still wondering why Monsanto creates more and more Frankenfood? Why do we still get upset about chemicals in the milk? Do we all live in La-La -Land and think our actions won’t make a difference? Do we really believe it is all someone else’s fault? Do you really think you are not part of this? Do you really think you are the victim and not the villain?

And don’t make the mistake to believe this is all happening far far away from us. Here in Kaitaia our only butcher closed. The owner couldn’t find a successor. Nobody saw any potential for a small butchery while having the “Big Yellow Stick Man Monster” in town. All we have left now is pre-packaged meat from the shelf.

Will we all soon be fed from factories? We do have a choice. Buy local, buy from small suppliers. Every dollar you spend at a small local shop will help. Every dollar you spend at a big supermarket will be a lost opportunity. Let’s all save our local businesses.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What makes a bread? Flour!

It is like Milk and Cheese, like fruits and jam, like eggs and Pavlova. The flour dictates the bread. You need to chose the right type of flour for your bread. Try making a Ciabatta with a low-protein (low gluten) whole grain flour – Failure!

So where do you get your flour from? Well there the problem starts. I am still in the process of setting up my little farm bakery. Of course I use organic products. Of course I wouldn’t use anything else than local products. Yeah Right. Organic isn’t the problem, local is.

A while ago I read an article on Azelia’s Kitchen Blog titled "The broken relationship between farmer, miller and baker". Don’t let the blog title fool you. It sounds like Annabel Langbein or something from Women’s Weekly. But Azelia has a huge knowledge about flour, grains and the process of baking. If she does something she does it right meaning she has an almost scientific approach to everything.

Now the core message in her article is that the three roles – Farmer, Miller and Baker – need to be experts in their field but also need to talk the language of their customer. So the farmer has to understand what the miller says and the miller needs to know what the baker wants.

This made me realise one thing – and it came as a shock: we do not have millers in New Zealand! (I do exclude big flour factories like Champion and Weston on purpose. They don’t provide NZ Organic flour as far as I know) We have farmers who operate a grain mill. I am sure they understand everything about growing wheat etc. But they sadly don’t understand a lot about flour. And even worse, they do not understand what the baker wants. What the baker needs.

I contacted local organic flour companies and asked for a flour analysis. They can not tell me what type of flour they sell. They do not blend the flour. They can not provide a consistent quality. Imagine, baking a bread blindfolded, not knowing what is in your flour bin! Impossible!

On top of this, the flour is especially milled for my order. They even say it should be used in 4 weeks after receiving the shipment. This is proof that there isn’t a lot of knowledge around. Green flour is not the best flour. Flour needs to oxidise and is best after a couple of months after milling. In the case of flour, fresh isn’t best! If you want to read more, here is another excellent post from Azelia: "oxidising fresh flour"

This all sounds very harsh. Which is not my intention. The problem is that these companies do sell their flour to some bakeries. So the “Well other people don’t have this problem” argument might be used. But bakers I talked to confirmed to me that they would never even consider using a flour they don’t know anything about. So how does one make bread, organic healthy bread on a high level, from local flour? The answer: You can’t in NZ!

I meanwhile buy from a company who import flour from Italy and Turkey. Which drives me insane when I start thinking about food miles (which I try to avoid – the thinking and the food miles).Talking to them about the NZ local flour situation I was told that they would love to sell local organic flour but that their customers are not happy with the quality and the inconsistent variations of the quality. Every flour they sell has a fact sheet which lists the nutrients and most importantly the proteins. Even if the quality would change, at least I would know about it and would know how to adjust my recipes.

It fills me with sadness that I can’t use a New Zealand flour and still produce a high quality product.It actually took away a big part of my dream to create a local healthy food. So what is the solution? I only see one way and that is to have a milling culture in New Zealand. We would need small mills with flour experts who can produce local flour from local grain. We already grow the grain, but we don’t mill and blend it properly. But I don’t think there is a market for this. Or let me re-phrase this: I don’t think anyone sees the market for this. One baker in Auckland tells me he would love to use NZ Organic flour if it would be available in different types and blends. I would guess judging from the silos he gets from Champion or Weston that his demand would already use a big part of a local mill’s production. And thinking of bakeries like Paris Berlin, Zarbos, Olaf’s, Two Hands Bread, Matakana Bakery and The Loaf to just name the few I can list from the top of my head I wonder why there is nobody who sees the market. None of them seem to use NZ Organic flour.

Will we ever be able to bake New Zealand bread with New Zealand flour?


Coquo, ergo sum.

Baguette Rolls


This is a variation on the Pain a l’Ancienne theme. To be honest, I struggled with the Pain a l’Ancienne recently. I switched to another flour and it just couldn’t take the 79% water the recipe asked for. The dough was like liquid mud. It tasted great but the Baguette I made were flat. Not nice! So with this recipe I reduced the water to 65%. And hey presto, wonderful.


500 gm Bread Flour (organic) (100%)
10 gm Salt (2%)
3.5 gm Active Dry Yeast (0.7%)
325 gm Water – ice cold (65%)


Same as with the Pain a l’Ancienne, everything should be cold. I added ice cubes to the water, 30 minutes before I used it. But don’t get the ice cubes into your dough because the water wouldn’t get incorporated into the dough. If you can put the mixing bowl into the freezer and maybe the flour as well – even better. The colder you can get it the better. Put a bowl into the fridge you will use later to put the dough into. I love to use the 7 liter Clip-It containers from Systema. They are great for this.

This is really an easy and straight forward bread. Mix all ingredients for 2 minutes on low. Then increase the speed to medium and mix for 10 minutes. Take this as a guidance. The longer you mix the more the dough will take on temperature. And you want to keep it cold. A guidance that you might stop the mixer is when the dough gets off the sides of the bowl but still sticks to the bottom.

Spray the bowl from the fridge with cooking oil. Scrape the dough into the container and put it straight into the fridge. Leave for at least 10 – 12 hours. I prepare the dough in the evening and leave it over night in the fridge.

Take the dough out of the fridge and put at a warm place. I had it at 30 deg C (use a styro box or a chilly bin and add hot water in a bottle). Leave there for 2 –3 hours.

Make sure you heat your oven so that it is hot after the 2 – 3 hours period. Heat it to 240 deg C or hotter. As hot as possible.

Lightly flour a bench and tip out the dough onto the bench. For the rolls I cut 90 gm pieces and form them as little rolls or mini-batards. Don’t work the dough to much. You don’t want to deflate it more than necessary. Score (cut) them lengthwise with a sharp serrated knife or razor.

Put them straight into the oven and steam the oven with a steam pan or spray half-baked baguette rollssome water into the oven. Bake until they have a dark golden brown crust. I baked at 245 deg C for 15  -20 minutes (on a stone). I also baked some for only 10 minutes, packed them in plastic bags after they were cool and put them in the freezer for later finishing.


I was very pleased with the result. The cold fermentation brings out a huge amount of flavour. And with the reduced moisture the crumb was perfect as you can see below.


This whole process fits nicely into our current activities. I put them into the warm box before we start milking, set the oven on the timer and when we come up from milking it is just a 20 minute bake (and 10 minute cooling) and we have fresh rolls for breakfast. And I can make them in advance for later finishing. Haven’t tried it yet but I would think if I put them frozen into a cold oven, set at 200 deg C and bake until golden brown they should be just right.

Any feedback is more than welcome. Enjoy!


Coquo, ergo sum!

Is your food sterile?

I hope not. Because to me it then wouldn’t be food. Sterile food is e.g pink slime. It looks like food, they make it taste like food but is it really food?

Let me first tell you what inspired me to write this. A good friend of mine from way back when I studied Software Engineering in Germany made a comment on one of my blog posts. My friend meanwhile has a family, one son and lives in Germany. We both studied IT in Heidelberg as part of a retraining. Me retraining from a Gardener (who used to work with soil/dirt), him retraining from a baker who had a flour dust allergy. We both became software engineers. I am telling you this to give you a bit of a background. My friend was a baker with passion. On our weekend break he went home and worked at his old workplace, wearing goggles and a breathing mask. That’s how much he loved his work.

Now some 15 years later …. I moved to New Zealand and live a very much self-sufficient life, he is back in Germany and started a family. We couldn’t have changed more and moved apart more. I meanwhile slaughter animals, shoot pest/game, go fishing, bake bread, brew beer and wine and make cheese. I think cow shit actually has some sort of a nice smell to it. And the cheese making was what led to his comment. I posted something about an experiment I wanted to do to make a cheese the same way as it was done hundreds of years ago. I took the Swiss mountain shepherd and dairyman in the Swiss Alps called a “Senner” as an example who lived up in the mountains from beginning of spring until the dawn of fall. They had to be self-reliant. The next shop was a walking distance of one or more days away. They milked the cows and made cheese. This was the birth of Swiss cheese. But they didn’t had a web page where they could mail-order their freeze dried cheese cultures. They didn’t use any. They used the bacteria in the milk and in the air. That’s what made the Swiss cheese typical. So that was my experiment (which failed in its first stage and is delayed for now but this is not the point of this post).

Now the comment of my friend was something like:

“You can’t be serious! I am very worried about you and your health. You surely don’t want to eat this food which is loaded with bacteria. Baking is a different matter, baking with wild yeast at least uses heat as a steriliser. Do you really want to kill yourself?”

Now let’s look at this. There are two main ideas in this comment: 1st - Bacteria are bad and 2nd - food needs to be sterile.

We have 10 times more bacteria in our body than we have cells. We need bacteria for a healthy life. We even have E. Coli in our guts. Yes that’s right, E. coli which got all the bad press recently.

The modern food industry supported by government authorities tell us that bacteria are dangerous. The first thing what comes to people’s mind is “dirty”. Bacteria are a synonym for dirty, unsanitary conditions. And who really wants to eat dirty food? But our definition for clean and dirty has changed over the years. Clean was just this: naturally clean. Nowadays clean means sterile. One only has to watch TV commercials and you think we are under constant attack from germs and bacteria. I sometimes wonder how we survive out there.

When I was young, we lived a life outside. We ate disgusting things. We took fruit from trees without washing them first. We ate sugar beets we stole from the fields and broke open on a rock. We dared each other to eat earthworms and snails. I wonder how much sand and soil we involuntarily swallowed when we were rolling around on the ground (usually fighting with other boys). We cut our knees open and didn’t care about dirt in the wound. Nobody used antibiotic soap and disinfectant spray. We washed our hands with soap (if at all). We played with dogs and horses. We had hamsters and pet rabbits. So how did we survive? We had something called an immune-system. And boy was it strong! Because it was highly trained. It was hardened over time, right from the beginning. We sucked it in with our mother’s milk and strengthened it in the sandbox and on the playgrounds. And it was under attack a lot. But it was under attack from natural normal bacteria. Not under attack from antibiotics and antibacterial soap. We need to re-define our understanding of clean and dirty again. We need to bring it back to a normal, a natural level.

Now the second part is about “food has to be sterile”. Where does this come from? Food was never sterile. Everything based on fermentation is using yeast fungi. Bacteria are part of our food. Almost all dairy products are based on bacteria. But the real problem is, food which is alive is perishable. And this doesn’t fit into our modern food system which is based on Just-In-Time delivery, long term storage, filling demands, transportation and lean production systems. The only reason why our food is full of preservatives and chemicals is purely for profit. Why do you think do we have flavour enhancers? To make you more happy because it tastes better? Why do you think we have artificial flavours? To make you happier? Why do we (according to a cheese factory owner in NZ) pasteurize our yogurt after it was cultivated and then add some beneficial bacteria later on? To make it healthier for you? Why does the government put up a big fight and argument every time the raw milk discussion comes up? To protect you from harmful bacteria? There is only one answer to all these questions: It is to support the modern food production, to support the long term storage of food in warehouses, to support the long transport around the world - to make profit! This is the only true reason.

Are you happy to eat and drink all these additives and preservatives and colours and artificial flavours so that some food business can make more profit? I tell you one thing for sure, Goodman Fielder doesn’t want artisan bread which lasts only a week. They want pre packed bread, all in one size which fits nicely into a tray, which goes into a rack and gives an optimum of space usage in their trucks. Fonterra doesn’t want raw milk and raw milk dairy products. They want products which can be ripened in huge warehouses and carted around the country and overseas. They want yogurt made from milk powder because that stores way better than raw milk. Coca Cola doesn’t want fresh pressed fruit juice. They want fruit drinks based on apple juice concentrate which is freeze dried and pasteurized and can be stored in silos which are imported by ship from China.

Dead sterile food is profitable and manageable and needs additives to appear nourishing. Live food is perishable, seasonal and healthy. But sorry, food which is alive contains bacteria, fungi germs and the occasional snail shit! I can live with that. I actually want to live with that. What do you want?