Movie: Wood fire baking in Verbier

September 2nd, 2011 | Posted by greg in Daily life... | Travel

Decades ago, in my hometown of Verbier, wood fire oven baked sourdough bread was reigning king.

Back then, the main activity in our village was farming, not only to make a living but more simply to live. There was one communal oven, called Four Banal in French, and each family had its turn to bake. Families were passing to each other the mother sourdough and every family had a certain given time to make bread. The traditional bread from the village is made with rough rye flour from the region and is made to last for months. Rye was the main cereal back then as it can grow better at such altitude and rough weather.

As of today, the oven is maybe in use 3 or 4 times a year, which is respectable, but I wish it could be more. An association was created to keep it alive and they are doing a great job at it. They takes care of the oven, of the dough room and organize baking session for special events or on request. Nowadays, anyone with a little bit of interest in old fashioned bread baking can join the association. People from all ages and all background join. The baking days are fun, convivial and truly educational.

The dough is being kneaded by hand by all the participants and left to ferment in the large wooden crate. The “chambre des pates” (or dough room) is where the dough is kneaded, shaped and proofed. There is a wooden fired stove in that room that is constantly being heated, allowing the bread to proof nicely. As you can see, it can be of great help as the snow falls heavily outside.

Once shaped, the breads are left on wooden board and covered with a cloth. During the waiting time, wine and food was enjoyed… maybe too much wine, and as you can see in the movie, the proofing got a little out of hand, but it came out very nicely anyway! The long wooden board are brought to the oven and the breads are being baked.

Although not present, I am very happy to be a member of the Association du Four Banal de Verbier and very proud to have my baking book exposed there!

When I was about 12 years old, I had the luck to participate to a baking day. I wanted to renew the experience this summer, but it wasn’t possible. Instead, my uncle Pierre-Alex sent me an hour long movie on the baking day, I made it short and edited it as a 8 minutes movie – please enjoy!  

>> Baking at Le Four banal de Verbier movie <<

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8 Responses

  • Spencer says:

    Hi Gregoire,

    Thank you for the wonderful video!  You said decades ago the people living in the village would constantly used the oven, but it is today used only 3 or 4 times a year.  I was wondering what eventually happened?  Why did the people stopped using the oven to bake their breads?  Did bakeries appear and people were buying their breads from the bakeries?  Did people switch to baking in their home ovens because it was more practical?  By the way, do you remember if a rye or wheat levain was used in making those breads?


    • Hello Spencer,

      Since the early 1950’s, with the industrial revolution, everything had to be faster, more productive, sadly more cost efficient, and commercial yeast was developed commercially as well as electrical and fuel ovens. People were not living anymore from farming, but from other activities, notably tourism and mountain sports.

      The bakery of the village still had great bread made with sourdough, but the wooden oven was left in the shade as people were buying from the bakery. I find it a shame, but with the world embracing that economy model, things went that way…

      The sourdough was rye and the bread was made with rye and a very little part of coarse wheat flour.


  • Sarah says:

    Thanks, Gregoire, that was very interesting. I realized that weighing out the dough means all the loaves will cook in the same amount of time. Thanks for producing the video!

  • super vidéo!! voir neiger par cette chaleur fait envie, sans parler de l’atmosphère conviviale et des résultats obtenus.  Bravo!!! quelle classe mais aussi quelle technique !

  • Spencer says:

    It’s amazing that this oven was used constantly by families in a local community.  The oven seems to be in good shape.  I know of 1 or 2 bakeries that use a brick oven to bake their breads in, and I have heard from the owners that their brick ovens are starting to break down after being used constantly for 3 or 4 years.  I guess they don’t make brick ovens like they used to.  I was wondering if you can in a future blog entry tell us what makes bread from Switzerland different…from Germany?  Or maybe France?

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