Breaking Bread: Pan do Seixo

Last May when I was in Galicia I spent some time with a local bread man. To my grandmother and the neighbours he is referred to as Seixo (pronounced say-show), a name that reflects the town where he is from rather than any name his mother gave him. Seixo is a little town in the mountains, not far the ancient village of Cebreiro on the Camino de Santiago. The bread that this man makes is called Pan do Seixo. 

 Pan do Seixo Loaves ©2013 Helena McMurdo

The bread is crusty and chewy and filling. When the locals cut it, they hold it tightly between their arm and their body and cut off a slice, one-handed, as if it could somehow get away from them.

 Pan Do Seixo © 2013 Helena McMurdo

Seixo is a daily visitor, showing up around 10 o'clock in his little van and beeping his horn. If you want bread, you're ready and waiting with your euro in hand. If you don't you wave him off and he continues on his journey through the green hills of this part of Lugo province. 

 Near O Cebreiro © 2014 Helena McMurdo

I asked him if I could spend some time with him and see how this bread was made. He generously obliged. After spending most of the morning delivering, he starts baking at around 4pm. My mum and I made the short trip into the hills through some pretty windy roads to a most unlikely place for a bakery. And not any bakery. One that in addition to servicing restaurants and locals, ships bread, twice a week, more than 900 km to shops in Barcelona. The authentic Galician character of his bread is much sought after by Gallegos living in the city. He told me he started out just shipping bread to a few friends that had a shop. The bread became known by other Gallegos living in the Barcelona and the demand grew.

Despite the rustic surroundings, and the artisanal nature of the bread, the bakery itself is fairly modern.  But some traditional touches remain.

The oven is a state-of-the-art, modern one, with a rotating conveyer belt allowing Seixo to cook 80 loaves at a time. But then you see how it's fired. With wood. A delightful mix of old and new technology.

He uses a mixture of yeast and ferment (what we would know as a starter or biga ), as well as a blend of commercial wheat flour and a locally grown Galician flour. He makes two main loves a wheat loaf and a rye loaf.  

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Once the dough is mixed in a modern, commercial mixer, it is cut into portions and left to proof in a traditional dough trough called an artesa. My mum remembers that in the old days when everyone made their own bread at home, every house had one of these. It's sort of a coffin shaped box on legs with a wood cover.

 Cutting the dough ©2013 Helena McMurdo
 Artesa first proofing © 2013 Helena McMurdo

After an initial proofing in the artesa, the dough is weighed and divided into individual portions and formed into balls (bollas) which are placed on a board for a second proofing.

 Forming the bollas ©2013 Helena McMurdo
 Proofing the Loaves © 2014 Helena McMurdo

After the second proof, of approximately 40 minutes, it's time for the oven. This is rapid fire, co-ordinated team work. With Roberto, bringing out the wood trays, and Seixo forming the bollas into their final shape, slashing the tops where necessary, the two men entered into a rhythmic dance. 

 Pan do Seixo Bollas ©2013 Helena McMurdo

Working in batches they used a conveyer belt to load the bread into the oven, depositing it on the shelves. In no-time, approximately 80 loaves were in the oven and browning nicely.

 Loading the Conveyer ©2013 Helena McMurdo

The thing that struck me most in the 4 hours I spent with Seixo and Roberto was the pace of work. It was non-stop. And they work hard. When he wasn't actively making bread and sometimes when he was, Seixo was fielding calls on his mobile phone, taking orders, doing business.  A man in demand.

 Seixo on the Phone © 2013 Helena McMurdo

When the bread was ready, Seixo asked me if I wanted to try a treat from the old days. He explained this was a traditional snack that he had as a kid. He ripped into a warm loaf and sprinkled it with sugar and olive oil. Heaven. 

 On the conveyer ©2013 Helena McMurdo

We left his home at nine at night, dead on our feet but with smiles on our faces. The next day he was back at our house, beeping his horn. No rest for him.