New Norcia’s resident master baker, the charismatic Terry Nuske is adamant that baking bread is as easy as cooking a roast. The ingredients
are simple enough; flour, water, yeast and salt, but it’s really the passion that incites a good baker to rise to the occasion, that, and the fire. Both are necessary to create an outstanding bread, and both must be red hot.
Terry’s work day begins at 12.30am, when most of us are shutting down for the night. Cloistered in the original stonewalled bakery, he begins by building the fire. It takes three loads of local hardwood to get the 125 year old monastery oven firing as it should. By the time it has reached the optimum start temperature of 250 deg C, Terry must have all his doughs mixed, proven and ready to go.
“The key to good bread is a relaxed oven” he explains, “a gas oven will keep firing to maintain an even temperature, but with a wood fired oven, you must get it right.”
Terry has a window of approximately one hour at the optimum temperature to produce the daily bread for the New Norcia monastic community, the local residents, and the tourist contingent.
When you taste the bread, Terry’s passion for his product is evident, and the basic ingredients are imbued with the distinctive flavour of the oven,
along with the time-taught skills of a seasoned artisan.
Depending on the time of year, Terry bakes between 80 and 200 loaves a day in the 4 x 3 metre oven space, which was built in 1886 by the Benedictine Monks. The austere bakery rooms including the historic oven are housed within the Monastery itself, but are leased by the company ‘New Norcia Bakeries’, under a special agreement with the Benedictine Community. New Norcia Bakeries, now owned by the Mias group, was formed by Kingsley Sullivan in the early nineties, whose vision was to create a traditionally made, authentic bread that rivaled the world’s finest.
As the oven continues to relax to around 160 deg C, Terry bakes the famous fruit bread and the divine Dom Salvado Pan Chocolatti, New Norcia Nut cake and Almond biscotti. These premium products are now distributed worldwide, and appear in upmarket venues such as Harvey Nichols and Selfridges in London
and David Jones nationally. They are also available in Perth at the Mt Hawthorn and Subiaco New Norcia Bakery shops and locally at the New Norcia Art Gallery shop.
Terry has been baking at New Norcia for nearly 9 years now, after relocating from Victoria and has embraced life in the monastic town.
“It’s a slower way of life” he says,” I work harder and longer, but there’s a real sense of peacefulness here”
Lucky enough himself to receive a few pointers from Dom Paulino, the monk who baked in the original oven for over 60 years, Terry now passes on his
knowledge of traditional baking to his apprentices, often local, who continue on at New Norcia Bakeries’ larger premises in Mt Hawthorn. Even with all that experience, the daily ritual of baking has its good and bad days. “Sometimes you do everything right, and it still doesn’t quite work” he says. The union of yeast and flour is precarious, and is affected by temperature, season and timing. It takes practice and dedication to get it right, and that
spark of passion kept burning by those wood fired coals.