Cereal grains have been grown in the Lesachtal, a valley in the southern Austrian region of Carinthia, for over 4,000 years. Ancient varieties of rye and wheat have developed in a landscape characterized by historic water mills, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and renovated as of 2010. Initially one of the most important cereals was oats, which in the 14th century were the most productive crop and demanded as interest on payments. Over the course of the following two centuries, however, they were replaced by rye, less vulnerable to the cold and more resistant to frosts. Rye was considered the best winter grain, and for this reason bread in the Lesach valley was traditionally made with rye flour. It was a typical country bread, compact in shape and with a thin crust, naturally leavened and made from rye flour with the addition of a small amount of wheat flour. Batches were generally baked every two or three weeks by the local families. Later, wheat took over the entire Lesachtal area, though it was rarely used for baked goods, with the exception of reindling, a typical Easter cake made with raisins, walnuts and cinnamon.
In this area, the cultivation and milling of grains and the production of bread form a closed cycle, and are often carried out by the same people. As a result, the link between the local area and the producers is very strong.
Currently Kärntner Früher summer wheat (whose name means “Carinthia Early”) and winter rye from Upper Carinthia are cultivated in eight to ten plots at altitudes over 1,000 meters above sea level, following organic agriculture principles. The flour is generally milled at home using manual or electric mills, though some of the grains are taken to an old traditional mill that is still in operation.
The recipe for the bread calls for two thirds rye flour and one third wheat flour, but this proportion can vary depending on the baker. The use of a sourdough starter, however, is obligatory. The rye makes the bread more wholesome than a wheat-only dough, because it has a lower percentage of gluten, making it more digestible. Traditional flavorings can be mixed into the dough, like flax, coriander, cumin, anise and fennel seeds.
After rising for at least 24 hours at a constant temperature of between 25 and 26°C, the loaves are baked in wood-burning ovens at 200°C for around an hour.
There is an annual festival for Lesach Valley bread: On the first Sunday of September, bakers bring their bread to the central square of the town of Lesachtal, and the whole community comes together to celebrate this key traditional product.
Lesach Valley, between Gentschach and Kartitscher Sattel, Carinthia region
Hans Unterguggenberger (rye, wheat, spelt)
Mario Lugger (wheat)
Johann Lugger (rye, wheat)
Josef Stabentheiner (rye, wheat)
Andrea Unterguggenberger (rye, wheat)
9655 Maria Luggau
9651 St. Jakob