The Watermill Bakery – Our Swiss/Kiwi Baking Experience

So for those of you following at home, in the last 8 weeks we’ve made compost and weeded gardens, hitched our way to “Surftown” NZ, had a years-worth of (free) hangovers, and managed to create an engineering feet with a submersible canoe. Where could we end up next? Well… what goes better with beer than PIZZA?!

Our run of good luck and good karma continued when we received an e-mail from Gerlinde and Boly from the Watermill Bakery and Pizzeria, located on the Southeastern corner of the North Island, telling us to come hang out and eat their pizza for a week or two. Boly, who besides being possibly the most upbeat and energetic man I have ever worked with, is also a Master Miller by trade, having spent about two decades working as a flour miller in his native Switzerland and then as far as Africa and finally New Zealand. In the early 90’s he bought a plot of cleared farmland with a small stream running through it and almost immediately started planting trees and built a log house (which will become his flour mill). How can best you describe this guy? Even before he had a building, he purchased and shipped two containers worth of milling equipment – including massive grindstones – to New Zealand because he knew that someday he would build his own mill.

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Incredible building, live music and probably the best pizza I’ve ever had… life is rough!

It took ten years to finish the first building project and he still didn’t have a mill set up, but he did have a traditional wood fired baking oven and the bread started coming. When we showed up, 20 years after buying the property, he had turned 40 of the 60 acres into a purpose-made forest with specific trees planted in groves which he can now harvest to make firewood and log building components. There is a booming bread/pizza business coming out of his original log structure and a house for the family just a quick walk up the hill that is powered exclusively by solar and a mini-hydro. Though he still hasn’t unpacked his millstones yet.

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Boly; the man, the myth, the legend, taking a pizza out of the oven.
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Gerlinde slaving away at the pizza topings

So how did we fit in? …Besides eating some of the best pizza we had ever had you mean? We spent 10 days working and learning as much as we could: Lindsay made some of the sweets the bakery sells, Clay finished hand-made hardwood cutting boards, we picked raspberries for desert pizzas, and we prepped cut logs for future building projects by peeling and sealing them.

The most memorable experiences we had though were working the pizza nights and the farmers markets. The bakery would make pizza every Friday night and it definitely embodied the phrase “if you build it, they will come”. The place was at best 20 minutes from any population center, stuck out in them middle of nowhere, and yet we would turn 120 pizzas on a Friday night. I cut and Lindsay served them one after another. We participated in two farmers markets, and we luckily had the ‘big monthly market’ while we were there. We sold bread and sweets and about 150lbs of a traditional Swiss breakfast hash brown called Rosti. I flipped, cut and served frying pan after frying pan of Rosti on our little assembly line while Lindsay happily took their money and sold them the Lindstorten that she made the day prior.

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Lindsay bringing pizza to the hungry masses
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The monkey cuts the pizza…

…All of that and then the board game Carrom. This one is worth learning in person – come visit us and be prepared to drink beer and play lots of our new favorite table game!

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Stripping bark off a newly cut cedar pole

Before I end the post I’m not sure how I could forget our Swiss logging experience. I (Clay) have more experience with tree harvesting than the average bloke and, while not a professional logger, I know how it’s done as I did it for much of my time through high school and university. With that being said, we learned a unique and highly inefficient way to bring logs to a processing area. Boly had a few cedar trees high up on a hill that were missed by the excavator when it came to do some dirt work and the truck couldn’t make it there to drag them down. So what did we do? (This is almost as ridiculous as Hunter and the Buffalo so I’ll try to paint the picture):

We started with a 30 year-old rusted trolley (hand cart… think of the two wheeled cart that the UPS guy uses to move boxes) that in a past life held the gas tanks for a cutting torch. We rolled one log onto the long part of the trolley (which was lying on the ground, handles digging into the dirt) and attempted to secure it with two worn-out ratchet straps. This gave the butt end of the log “wheels”. Then, by taking a second trolley and levering the other end of the log, we raised it up on four “wheels” with the top end completely unsafe and unsecured but able to pivot and steer the log-on-wheels. At that point we were forced to let gravity and health insurance do the rest of the work: the lucky two held extended ratchet straps on the uphill side of the log, while the other poor bastard held onto the unsecured trolley on the downhill side. The guy on the bottom tried to steer down a narrow and winding 200m hill while he hoped like hell the two people on the top half would slow the log down enough that it didn’t run him over. When I write a book this might have to be a whole chapter, as we performed this exercise four times with 1000lbs (+) logs and I honestly still don’t know how it worked… I just know I’m never ever inviting a European baker to help me cut logs.

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Our living quarters for these 10 days
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