The pandemic has inspired a new passion for quality loaves in Lisbon, a city saturated with industrialized bread. Baking bread became an escape for many people during global lockdowns, and the Portuguese capital was no exception – talk often turned to bread recipes or the desperate search for flour and yeast, which flew off supermarket shelves.
Like in many European countries, bread has always been an important part of the Portuguese diet. It’s an essential part of the culinary traditions in the Alentejo, where wheat bread is widespread, and in the north, where corn and rye loaves are also found. In difficult times, it was a staple that fed many empty stomachs. Yet with industrialization came poor-quality flours and yeasts and the fast fermentation process, which result in bread that smells good in bakeries and supermarkets but quickly becomes Styrofoam-like once it cools.
Some professional chefs in Lisbon and the surrounding areas have capitalized on their quarantine baking – something fun to do while their restaurants were closed – to set up new, small-scale bread businesses, building on the groundwork laid by Diogo Amorim at Gleba and other young artisanal bakers.
Take chefs André Toscano and Joana Guimarães, who are now baking loaves and other bready specialties in the Mafra region, one hour north of Lisbon, under the name Terço do Meio. Joana, who had been cooking with André Magalhães from Taberna da Rua das Flores at the now-shuttered Taberna Fina, was the one to start baking for fun at home during the lockdown. André, who worked with big-name Portuguese chefs like Nuno Mendes and Leandro Carreira and has lots of experience in restaurants that place an emphasis on bread, was happy to go along for the ride.
“It was a very productive quarantine!” André tells us. At one point he gave a loaf to his grandmother, who insisted on paying him; soon other family members and friends started to do the same. What started as a hobby is now Joana’s full-time job and a side hustle for André, who is currently working at Fogo, chef Alexandre Silva’s restaurant where everything is cooked with fire (part of André’s duties involve baking bread). After baking for hours using only a household stove, they are now equipped with a professional-grade oven.
For the time being they only distribute in the Oeste region (north and west of Lisbon) and in Lisbon proper, but they are prioritizing the towns of Mafra, Ericeira and Malveira. “We live in this area so we’ve decided to focus around here, where there aren’t so many people like us operating. We’re looking for a space to work around here too,” Joana says.
Terço do Meio is baking sourdough bread (made of wheat, spelt, corn and different grains) but also brioches, weekly specials and some types of sweet bread (like trança, a “cousin” of cinnamon buns). When it came to sourcing their flour, they stayed local, working with Farinhas Paulino Horta, a miller who is supplying his high-quality flour to many new bakers. In fact, the name Terço do Meio came from a visit to this mill. “In one of the old millstones there’s a gap that can’t grind the cereal. Paulino told us it’s called terço do meio and we thought it was a good name,” André says.
Joana and André also source from another mill in Torres Vedras and work with Lugar da Terra, an organic farm. These relationships have allowed them to produce loaves made with unusual ingredients, like fermented oat and beetroot. Both are enjoying this foray into baking, especially the direct contact with clients, a bit like the old-school bakeries that used to deliver to your door.
David Jesus and Sandra Freitas have a similar lockdown story. The couple met in the kitchen of Belcanto, chef José Avillez’s Michelin-starred restaurant in Chiado – David is the chef (José is the executive chef) and Sandra was doing an internship before the pandemic hit. With Belcanto closed, they started baking at home during March and April: Sandra had taken a baking course while David first cultivated his baking chops during an internship at Viajante, the now-shuttered restaurant in London that chef Nuno Mendes used to run.
“During the lockdown we had plenty of time so we started experimenting with sourdough and slow fermentation.”
“During the lockdown we had plenty of time so we started experimenting with sourdough and slow fermentation. We gave loaves to some family, colleagues and friends, and the feedback was so good that it made us think twice,” Sandra explains.
They started selling loaves under The Millstone Sourdough label. Initially baking at home, the couple has now rented a garage where the magic takes place three times a week, with distribution taking place on the following day (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). “At home it was getting complicated, and it’s still a small operation but we needed space for the production and the baking,” Sandra says. There’s even talk of opening a storefront later down the line.
For now, their creations are only available for delivery. In addition to sourdough loaves, they also make an incredible brioche, scones, bread with chouriço, bolo do caco (the Madeira flatbread made with sweet potato) and a loaf with Gorgonzola and walnuts, as well as other weekly surprises like pumpkin bread for Halloween and chestnut bread for São Martinho (St. Martin’s Day). Sandra, who is from Madeira and knows how hard it is to find a good bolo do caco in Lisbon, is the driving force behind the business – she left Belcanto to dedicate herself exclusively to baking, a passion of hers for as long as she can remember.
Although David is used to fine-dining techniques, he can’t hide his enthusiasm for baking. But he has kept his job at Belcanto, where he has worked for 13 years and is José Avillez’s right-hand man. “I’ve been working in restaurants for 22 years now and I feel fulfilled in Belcanto,” he tells us.
Their flours come from Paulino Horta, too. And while the bread market is becoming more competitive, these small-scale bakers are exchanging ideas and learning from one another. “Each project has its own style,” Sandra says.
But one uniting factor between these two couples is that both flour and love are in the air. “The peace and joy that comes from working together in such a healthy and warm environment is beyond our dreams,” David and Sandra agree.
To order from Terço do Meio, contact them by phone (+351 928 151 160), email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on Facebook or Instagram. To order from The Millstone Sourdough, contact them by email (email@example.com) or on Instagram.
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