Pan para el fin de semana was originally published on El comidista blog of El País on the 18 January 2013.
Cea? Where is this place? In the province of Ourense. It is a small village with 3,500 residents in the local council of Carballiño, where they make some of the best bread in Spain, and the one of the only breads in the country that carries a Protected Geographical Indication by the European Union, the only other bread that carries the same recognition is from La Cruz in Ciudad Real.
And have they been making this bread very long? I had not known this: more or less since the 13th Century. In the 18th Century almost the entire population was devoted to making bread and at the end of the 19th Century it was famous in the entire region.
What is special about it? It is made by artisanal methods following very strict regulations. The ovens should be traditional, made of granite and circular in shape, and they can only be heated with wood or other plant materials that do not affect the taste. The only allowed ingredients are wheat flour, water, salt, and sourdough starter, plus an optional small amount of compressed yeast. Besides the kneading times, the shape of the loaves are also regulated: a long loaf between 1 and 1.2 kilograms or a average loaf that is always has a cut in the middle of dough that divides it in half.
Very interesting. But let’s get to what matters: is it good? First, it tastes like bread, something that you cannot say about many products sold in Spain that carry the same name. I like it because it has a sufficiently hard crust and the inside is dense and spongy at the same time. It smells like wheat, is smooth but with a light acidic trace, and it conserves the moisture so that it does not turn into a rock on the second day. It is definitively true bread.
Where can you buy it? In Cea, where there are around twenty ovens that make and sell it, and in some stores outside of the town. But be careful with frauds: the true Cea bread always comes in labeled and numbered bags.
Local flour, local water, and a good oven. These are some of the secrets of which, for many, is the best bread in the world. Bread from Cea, a good excuse to visit the town.
Bread from Cea is the most famous in Galicia. At first glance it is recognized by its texture and color. The loaves have a unique shape and taste, the fruit of knowledge and expertise accumulated by generations of bakers.
San Cristovo de Cea smells like freshly baked bread. The village has the most bakers per capita in Spain. The streets are named after ancient ovens and there are monuments and museums dedicated to bread. The Rúa do Forno da Pena arrives to the Plaza da Eira, with ovens on all four corners–old communal ovens where neighbors took turns baking bread for festivals. They are primitive constructions made of stone. The Forno da Eira is the biggest of the sixteen that are conserved in Cea. The Forno do Lodairo, from the middle of the 19th Century, was the first that was restored. It was used until 1975 and now is a museum equipped with everything needed to make bread.
Each year Cea sells more than half a million loaves of bread. There are sixteen ovens in Cea that sell bread throughout Spain. The Cea breadmakers are organized and defend the quality of their artisanal product with a protected geographical indication by the European Union. The breadmakers of Cea conserve the best of their tradition by baking loaves in wood-burning ovens almost identical to those of a century ago.
To make Cea bread, local flour is used. Then, several kneadings—letting the dough stand after each kneading—before putting it in the oven. The production of the loaves takes between five and seven hours: a slow fire. The production is limited because the ovens are small like the traditional ovens.