I am in the country of Georgia for the first time. I started (and will end) in the capital, Tbilisi, and will spend next week skiing in a few different regions. Right now I am in the epicenter for Georgian wine, Kakheti, two hours east of Tbilisi. From its rural landscape comes not only the wine, but much of the country’s supply of produce, sprawling fields tended by local villagers.
Yesterday I had the chance to visit Winery Khareba. It’s one of the larger producers in the region with cellars that weave their way into the mountainside (I’ll have more to say on that, and Georgian wine in general, later). They also have big stone ovens where they produce the bread for the on-site restaurant.
One of the first food-related things I noticed is that nearly every meal in Georgia is served with bread. Not just any bread – great bread. Soft, chewy, short and skinny rolls that are eaten with cheese, or used to mop up the sauce of the main dish.
We’ve all seen stone ovens before – we even have them in the U.S. for making pizza. But the process for making bread the Georgian way was something I had not seen before. Instead of putting the bread on a flat surface to bake, the dough is pressed onto the side of a pit stone oven, held in place by two dabs of salt water that the baker drops onto either end before slapping it on the wall.
Does it fall off? Not usually, the baker said. But if it does, no problem – just pick it up and stick it back on. The way she reached into the fire let me know she had been doing it a very long time. I could barely put my hands over the side of the oven, yet she stuck loaf after loaf onto the side, only a foot or two above the fire.
Hmm… guess this is not the country to be bragging about my breadmaker.