Jesús Querol, owner of Pa Ronyó
A big defender of the slow food trend, in 2011, Jesús Querol and his wife Marga Cano opened a bakery in his hometown of Torregrossa, a small town of less than 2,500 inhabitants some 30 km from Lleida.
At Pa Ronyó, Querol opts for fermentations of more than ten hours and uses organic flours grown in Spain and ground in stone mills to get bread with more colour, aroma, flavour and crust. A whole chapter could be devoted to his natural sourdough made by fermenting native apples. “We have a sourdough for each type of bread, due to the intolerances and allergies that we are seeing more and more often. We also control the pH of our sourdough daily, which will be different depending on the type of cereal we use”, he explains.
1.- Why and when did you decide to open a bakery in a small village?
I studied cookery for five years and worked in restaurants and hotels until I passed the exams to become a teacher and taught for eleven years at the Cooking and Hospitality School of Sitges. The whole time, I did stages in different bakeries, read books, and visited numerous Catalan and French bakers... until in 2011 I decided, together with my wife Marga Cano, to set up our own artisanal and organic bakery.
Currently, I collaborate with magazines and books specialising in bread, in addition to giving workshops and organising tastings.
2.- What are the advantages and disadvantages for a baker of working in a rural environment with a small population?
The advantage is that the province of Lleida is the breadbasket of Catalonia, so I have the raw materials close at hand. And the drawback is having fewer customers, but they are very loyal.
3.- What are the keys to being popular and attracting people from other nearby towns?
Quality, quality, quality. People won't come if you don't give them something they can't find in their own town.
4.- Does having a bakery in a less populated area mean you need to adjust costs and adapt to the tastes of a very specific clientele? Or does it allow you to be creative and experiment?
I have the best value organic bread in Catalonia. We adjust costs by using fuel such as firewood, we try to work with solar whenever we can and we have created fermentation at 25º Celsius for 24 hours. We have natural light in the shop, we do not label any packaging and we give users recycled boxes and bags. We currently produce 30 different breads and 30 varieties of pastries, and customers are asking us for more. As you can see, we do everything we can, and more. We never stop experimenting or creating. In ten years, we have launched more than 100 new products, many have been forgotten, and some are still in the pipeline. An interesting one is the pa de boira (fog bread) that we only make when it's foggy, and people get angry when it's not. This bread has a hydration of 100% and we cool it when it's foggy outside. People tell us that we are crazy and I say yes, we're crazy about bread!
5.- How many people are on the team at the moment?
Joana and my wife Marga are in the store, Joan and I in the workshop. Luckily, we always have a stagiaire. We like to teach them everything we know while also learning what we can from them.
6.- With a small workforce, how do you organise production, orders, schedules, and so on?
We all do a bit everything, we had a stagiaire from Barcelona who had worked in quite a few bakeries and congratulated us on our organisation and production. We bake from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Friday afternoons, since in Lleida it is customary to eat cocas de recapte (a traditional Catalan flatbread topped with vegetables) on the weekend.
7.- Does not being in a city cause any problems when it comes to getting the products you need? Do you have to place larger orders or order in advance?
On the contrary, everything here is faster and fresher. Whenever I ask for 1,000 kilos of flour, I call two weeks in advance so that the supplier only needs to make one journey, I don't like to contribute to pollution.
8.- Which suppliers do you collaborate with?
With all of the ones that I have. I am a member of the baker's guild in the province of Lleida, everyone helps us, and I help them back.
9.- Do factors such as the weather influence the normal operation of the bakery?
Yes, when there is fog less water and heat goes into the dough, when it's 40º outside we add more water and cold. Everything has an influence. In the classroom of the guild at the Technological and Scientific Park of Lleida we are experiencing the influences of the moon on bread dough and on natural sourdough. It's amazing what we're learning.
10.- What message would you give to your fellow bakers who want to set up shop in a village but haven't yet taken that step?
Just do it. In a few years we will only have one baker in each comarca, in Teruel there is already a shortage of bakers. Bread that is well made, with love and affection, is what people want, and people will travel to get it, in the same way they travel to get to the supermarket. I hope that one of the oldest trades in the world does not disappear and people do not mind paying a bit more, since their body will thank them.