On September 25, 2018, I’ll be leading a group of up to 20 bakers and bread enthusiasts on a 12-day bakers’ tour of coastal Finland and Latvia. We’ll explore the cities and countryside, visit farms and mills, meet with national bakers’ associations. And, most important, we’ll learn from the bakers who produce some of the world’s finest rye breads. For details, visit the tour website.
The seeds were planted this past September during aflight to New York.After takeoff, my seatmate and I began chatting about ourselves. I went on at some length – as I usually do – about rye bread and my book, The Rye Baker. “Do you lead rye bread tours?” she asked.
In designing it, I thought about how best to share my passion for rye with other equally passionate bread bakers. To fully immerse ourselves in Europe’s rye culture, I wanted the tour to focus on Finland and Latvia. Both have rye cultures going back over 1,000 years, both have strong rye traditions and both revere rye bread as central to their national pride and national identity.
And yet, each represents a distinctive bread culture. The breads of western Finland, like the culture iteself, reflect the strong influences of the Swedes who settled there. The breads of eastern Finland feature the dense textures and floral, intensely sour flavor profiles of neighboring northern Russia. Latvian rye bakers, whom many Europeans regard as the world’s best, are known for their dark, dense loaves, complex sweet-sour flavor profiles and sophisticated centuries-old techniques for controlling rye’s quirky chemistry.
I wanted to introduce our community to both the past and present state of Baltic rye baking. I wanted to meet with national bakers’ associations and visit farms, mills and bakeries – especially bakeries, both traditional and modern. But I also wanted us to experience a broader understanding of the geographies and societies that produced those traditions. And so the tour includes some organized sightseeing. We’ll visit not only the historic centers of Helsinki and Riga, but also the countryside, where we can smell the air and the earth, wander fields of rye, climb the ramparts of medieval castles and, in some small way, get a taste of Baltic life before machines and engineered foods.
In refining our itinerary, I consulted with a couple of very knowledgeable friends: John Melngailis, the Latvian-born founder of Black Rooster Food, LLC, premier source of domestically baked Latvian rye breads, and Jarkko Laine, Helsinki resident and editor/publisher of Bread Magazine.
To put it all together, I wanted to work with someone local, someone with strong relationships throughout the region. For that, I chose Lauku Celotājs (“Country Traveler”), a Riga-based association of over 330 businesses and organizations in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and southern Finland. The quality of the package they’ve assembled speaks for itself.
Finally, I wanted this tour to benefit not just those of us who will meet in Helsinki, but also our community as a whole. To do that, I approached the Bread Baker’s Guild of America (BBGA) and asked them to sponsor this undertaking, which they agreed to do. Because I believe it’s important to support our craft and our community, each participant’s tour cost includes a tax-deductible $400 contribution to BBGA. In appreciation, the Guild will award a complimentary one-year membership and listing as a “Baker’s Bunch” level contributor.
It’s going to be an amazing experience; the adventure starts here. Join us!