Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Daily Bread

If you ever visit Maastricht (or anywhere else in the Netherlands, for that matter) one thing you will probably notice right away is that the Dutch love their bread (brood, pronounced with a short “oh” not a long “oo”). No low carb diets here: sandwiches (broodjes) of cold cuts and cheese are a prominent feature on lunch menus, and there’s practically a bakery on every corner. Which makes sense, seeing as the southern provinces of Zeeland and Limburg (where Maastricht is located) are traditionally the best grain-growing regions of the country. Bakeries typically stock the usual kinds of bread you’d find in the United States and other Western European countries: white (wittebrood), whole wheat (volkorenbrood), rye (roggebrood), etc., along with baguettes, various seeded and multigrain varieties, and rolls (and pastries of course!). You can buy just a portion of a loaf if you don’t want a whole one (very convenient for two-person households), and the baker will use a nifty machine to slice it for you at no extra cost.

I’ve made the rounds of almost every bakery within walking distance of our apartment, on both sides of the river, and I’ve tried a number of breads and sweets from a bunch of different places. I like to go to shops where it seems as if the bread is baked onsite (a lot of specialty shops that sell gourmet breads, cheeses, spreads and things outsource their loaves from a bakery, which doesn’t make them any less quality, it’s just fun to shop onsite while I have the chance. How often do you run into an actual bread bakery in the States, after all?).

Luckily I don’t have to go far; there is a bakery right next door to us called De Bisschopsmolen, “The Bishop’s Mill,” that doesn’t just make their own bread, they make their own flour for the bread as well. It’s a traditional working water mill, the oldest in the country, dating from the 7th century (I don’t think the building and mill there now are original; I think those are from the 1700s, and are definitely restored. I’m working primarily from the mill’s Dutch website translated using Google, so you never know). They get most of their grain from local farmers, and deliver some of their milled grain to the Gulpener brewery, makers of Korenwolf hamster beer!

As for their bread products, the Bishop’s Mill is distinctive because they use Kollenberger spelt, a traditional medieval grain. Their bread is soft and light and very flavorful. In addition to the typical wheat breads and rolls, they also produce specialty breads with ingredients like yogurt, nuts, honey and beer (Gulpener, of course); savory products like sausage rolls and pizza-type things (a lot of their ingredients, if not local, seem to come from Spain); and, of course, sweets like cookies, cakes, and the famous Limburg specialty, vlaai (see photo above). Vlaai translates roughly to “flan,” but it’s actually a pie, similar to an American-style pie but flatter, if that makes sense. They can be large or individually-sized, with three main varieties: fruit fillings (apricot* and cherry seem to be particularly popular) with a lattice crust sprinkled with pearl sugar; vanilla custard with a crumb topping (kruimelvlaai); or a kind of rice pudding (rijstevlaai).  

*I can recommend this one! Though the crust is a bit chewy compared to the flaky, shatter-at-the-touch of a fork quality many Americans associate with pie crust. According to The Dutch Table, this is because it’s made with a yeast dough rather than a pastry one.

These things are all available to go, of course, but there is also a little café located in the rooms between the mill itself and the retail counter where you can sit down to lunch on some of their products. I haven’t eaten there yet, but I imagine it would be pretty cool to know that what you are eating was literally produced right next door. The tourists certainly seem to enjoy it; there are often hordes of them taking tours through the mill (which apparently offers workshops as well) and eating in the café on weekends. Oh well, one of the perils of living in the heart of a medieval city, I guess.

And here’s some pictures. Enjoy!

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