29 January 2013

Giving us our daily bread

This is an abridged translation of an article about the speciality breads made in Alcalá, published in Cosas de Comé - La revista gastronomica de la Provincia de Cádiz.

The traditional breads of Alcalá de los Gazules, especially the pan cateto [a chewy rustic bread with a thick crust] and the molletes de matalauva [soft rolls flavoured with aniseed] have such a good reputation that they are now made at five bakeries in the area:  the Horno de Cuesta, Horno de Luna, Venta Patrite, Venta del Puerto de la Pará, and most recently, Gonzalo.

Freshly baked pan cateto - the rustic bread of Alcalá
Catalina Herrera explains it clearly: "I make the bread by punching it".  Her family, from the Venta Patrite [next to the camp-site], still knead the dough by hand.  Out there in the countryside, bread-making machinery hasn't yet arrived.  The "punching" is no exaggeration for this 78-year-old woman, who is one of those open books which exist in the Province allowing us to discover the gastronomy of each town.  She is referring to the method of using closed knuckles to get the mixture of flour, water, yeast and salt to exactly the right state before letting it rise and putting it in the oven.

In the Venta Patrite, where people make pilgrimages to buy the bread or enjoy it with the special stews prepared there, they use wood-burning ovens to make the loaves.  It is one of the fundamental characteristics of the pan cateto made by Alcalá's five artisan bakers), a surprisingly high number for a town of less than six thousand inhabitants.  But Alcalá's bread has become a tourist attraction and there is not a venta in the area that doesn't offer it in its breakfast bread-baskets.

Encarne shows off  a
torta de pellizco
The Horno de Luna is perhaps one of the most unusual locations.  Situated at the end of a narrow alley, it is not unusual to find people sitting in the shop passing the time of day.  People have their bread put by for them, and Encarnacíon Fernández Luna, the third generation of bakers, knows what all of her customers like.

The Horno de Luna still makes loaves in a traditional wood-fired oven.  The 2 kg loaves, or teleras as they are known, are the most popular. Once the bread is done, they take advantage of the remaining heat to make special cakes like tortas de pellizco, made with the same bread dough, or magdalenas gigantes  [giant madeleines].

Gonzalo Rodríguez Armenia is passionate on the subject of baking.  His father also practised the trade at the Horno El Mauro, which was famous in Alcalá.  His three sons, Gonzalo, Manuel and Francisco Javier have joined him in a new venture launched in August 2012, re-opening the family bakery on the Poligono La Palmosa, just metres from the two of the town's other gastronomic attractions: the smell of baking now mingles with that of freshly made chicharrones [deep-fried crispy pork] from Embutidos Gazules, and the award-winning cheeses of  the Quesería Gazul.

Gonzalo with his wood-fired oven on La Palmosa
The flour for pan cateto comes mainly from the Molino de Cobre in Algeciras, run by the Escalona family.  It is one of the few remaining stone-grinding mills in the province and produces a darker than usual flour due to the heat produced in the grinding process.  This rustic bread is also known as pan moreno, pan de campo or pan macho.   Its thick crust means it will last a week without going stale.

In the Horno de los Cuesta, they keep the origin of the flour a secret, because it is one of the key factors of their product's success. They also add a few drops of aguardiente to the mix.  They have a single outlet in Alcalá, in C/ Santa María de España, but many distributors buy bread there to sell further afield.  Antonio and Jaime Cuesta Alberto founded the bakery in the 1950s and the family business is now run by Jaime Cuesta Tenorio.

In the Horno de Cuesta it is also possible to find the other treasure of Alcalá's breads, the molletes.  These are completely different to pan cateto, with a pale colour and a looser, more spongy texture.  They are flavoured with a few grains of aniseed, which adds a very special flavour.  This practice is not exclusive to Alcalá, but is found all over Andalucia.  They also produce molletes sin matalauva, for those who don't care for the flavour.

Loaves and molletes from the Panadería Cuesta
The fifth and final bakery is found at the Venta del Puerto de la Parada, on the road between Alcalá and San Jose del Valle.  Its pan cateto is its star product, enjoyed  at breakfast and lunchtime by the many visitors to the venta, including farmers, hunters and cyclists.  It is open every day from 8 a.m. till around 6 p.m.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

....i hope to try some of this bread in March !!

Very interesting