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Profile: Farmer/Baker Vláďa Lechnýř

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    Vláďa Lechnýř
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    Fried Goat Cheese With Potato Salad
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    Potato salad ingredients: vegetable stock, olive oil, vinegar, pickles, mustard, chives, onion and red potatoes
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    Place the potatoes, skin on, in a medium-size pot and cover with water. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil.
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    When the potatoes are easy to handle, peel the skin...
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    ...and slice the potatoes into thin rounds.
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    Finely diced onion
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    In a small pot, mix the onion with the stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 3 minutes. Take off the heat and whisk in the oil, vinegar, mustard, chives, salt, sugar, black pepper, and pickles.
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    Pour the mixture over the potatoes and carefully mix until they are coated completely.
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    Remove the cheese from the freezer, and dredge each patty completely on all sides - first in the flour, then in the egg, followed by the breadcrumbs.
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    Fry the cheese...
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    ...until golden brown, about 1 minute per side.
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    Vláda and Denisa's 300-year-old farmstead in Lozice, in the Czech Republic
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    Courtyard of their house
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    Barn where animal feed is stored
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    Some bread loaves are coated in cornmeal
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    Dough rising in rattan proofing bowls
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    Vláda and Denisa baking bread in their 150-year-old oven.
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    Crusty loaves of organic bread
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    Goats waiting to be milked by Denisa
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    Their horse
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    Their dog Sestra, which means "sister" in Czech.
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    Sweat lodge built for ceremonial purposes
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    Elderberry flower tea in the making

Text, photos and food cooked by Michal Martinek

Oct 17, 2015

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Vláďa Lechnýř is a very good cook. He is an even better baker, and one recent Monday morning, he and his wife Denisa set the stage for their weekly bread-baking ritual: They ground locally grown organic wheat berries into a flour on a sturdy stone mill, created dough from their own sourdough starter, and shaped round loaves, which they coated in cornmeal or sprinkled with caraway seeds, and then let rise in rattan proofing bowls.

Then, in a smooth, dance-like flow perfected over the years, Denisa carefully placed each loaf on a long-handled wooden spoon and scored the top, and Vláďa briskly thrust them one by one into a wood-fired stone oven. Later, three dozen plump and finely crusty loaves emerged from the oven, ready to be picked up by devoted customers, some of whom drive several miles to get them. Artisanal, and free of chemical additives, this bread tastes wonderfully hearty, dense and chewy.

I observed this fun action from a corner of Vláďa and Denisa’s kitchen in their 300-year-old farmstead, located in Lozice, a picturesque village of 150 at the foot of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands and two hours east of Prague, in the Czech Republic. Two former city kids, they have been living here, along with their four young children, for 15 years.

We left the bread to cool and walked outside to hang out with their goats. They were happily grazing on grass and wildflowers on a meadow on the property. I counted a total of 17. They supply milk—which Denisa uses to make a resoundingly flavorful feta, ricotta and fresh chèvre—and occasionally meat. The goats also serve as an educational tool: Vláďa and Denisa run a workshop program for grade-school children who visit the farm and learn hands-on what the goats eat, how to milk them, and how milk becomes cheese.

The idea to live sustainably and practically off the grid came to them years ago on a spiritual backpacking trip through India.

“We stayed with this farmer family in a remote village in the Himalayas,” explained Vláďa, “and saw up-close that it is possible to live off the land, as people did for thousands of years—simply and ecologically. We came back with this vision and made it happen.”

Age 40's — Hometown Prague — Where do you live? Lozice, Czech Republic — Occupation Farmer, baker, cheesemaker, environmental educator — Signature dish Organic sourdough bread — Who taught you how to cook? I’m talking about baking, really. My first experience was with Pierre Citron, a master baker from Bretagne, France. He showed me how to make typical French sourdough bread at a workshop in the Czech Republic, but more importantly, he gave me memorable advice: “You must become acquainted with your bread oven and create your individual path of baking.” It was an impulse to fire up our own 150-year-old oven. — Favorite kitchen tool A very old bread-baking wooden spoon that came with our oven. — Always in your pantry Bread and goat cheese — Go-to snack Our bread with our goat cheese. I’ve had this same experience over and over: Whenever I drive to the city, I always pack my food with me. I feel that compared to the food that’s available in stores there, mine is much more nourishing. — Favorite cuisine Indian — Do you diet? We eat very little meat, but if we do, it usually comes from our baby goats. — Food addictions No. Two months ago, after one crazy chocolate trip, I quit eating chocolate altogether. Woo-hoo! — Food allergies Thank God none — Food fad pet peeve I’m a little annoyed with the current obsession with all things food in the Western world and the gluttony that comes with it. — Who’s your sous chef? My wife—and I’m hers. — Drinking while cooking? A lot! Often during bread baking, I feel the fire in the oven is sucking out all the water from me, so I have to put it back in. — What’s for dinner tonight? Baked organic skin-on potatoes. Our daughter Anna made a fresh cheese dip with basil and garlic from our garden. We'll also have a spicy cabbage salad mixed with pickles we made. — Do you ever cry over spilled milk? Yes — Best meal you ever had I'm still waiting for it. — Contact syyyr.cz

Fried Goat Cheese With Potato Salad

There is a popular Czech dish called Smažený Sýr. It means “fried cheese” and consists of a large slice of Edam that is breaded and fried, and then accompanied by French fries (or mashed potatoes) and tartar sauce. During the Socialist years, it was ubiquitous and often one of only two vegetarian entrée options available on Czech restaurant menus—the other being fried button mushrooms. It is still that way in many a small town pub and roadside cafe.

While nothing is more satisfying than a bite of gooey, melted cheese dipped in a tangy sauce, the original is a big calorie bomb—rich and pretty heavy. Vláďa’s version of Smažený Sýr is much lighter and healthier. At home, he prepares it from fresh organic goat cheese that his wife expertly makes a few times a week from milk provided by their herd of goats.

It is an easy recipe, but it’s a good idea to prep everything beforehand and then work methodically: shape the patties, freeze them briefly to prevent softening and sticking, then bread and fry quickly. The resulting texture is silky, feathery and moist, almost cheesecake-like, and the flavor is at once sweet and lightly sour.

Serve this fried goat cheese as a snack, just with your favorite condiment or on a bed of salad greens.

You can also make this remarkably good, rustic potato salad. It tastes best the next day, after the potatoes have some time to absorb the pleasantly brackish, mustard-flavored dressing.

O

  1. Serves 4
  2. 3 pounds medium-size red or Yukon gold potatoes
  3. 1 cup yellow onion, peeled, finely diced (about 1 small onion)
  4. 1 cup vegetable stock
  5. 3 tablespoons olive oil
  6. 3 tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
  7. 2 tablespoons hot or yellow mustard
  8. 2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
  9. 1 teaspoon salt
  10. 1 teaspoon sugar
  11. ¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  12. ½ cup pickled cucumbers or cornichons, cut into small rounds

1

Place the potatoes, skin on, in a medium-size pot and cover with water. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until a knife inserted into a potato easily slides in, about 15 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain the water and let cool.

2

When the potatoes are easy to handle, peel the skin and slice the potatoes into thin rounds. Transfer to a large bowl.

3

In a small pot, mix the onion with the stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 3 minutes. Take off the heat and whisk in the oil, vinegar, mustard, chives, salt, sugar, black pepper, and pickles. Pour the mixture over the potatoes and carefully mix until they are coated completely. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for minimum 8 hours or overnight. Season with salt and black pepper to taste before serving. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Fried Goat Cheese

O

  1. Serves 2–4
  2. 10–12 ounces plain soft goat cheese, chilled
  3. ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  4. 1 egg
  5. 1 tablespoon water
  6. ½ cup breadcrumbs
  7. ¼ teaspoon salt
  8. ¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  9. 6–8 tablespoons vegetable oil

1

Divide the goat cheese into 4 equal parts. Working quickly to prevent it from getting soft and sticky, use your hands to form 4 patties, each about 3 inches wide and ½ inch high. Place on a plate and put in the freezer for 20 minutes.

2

Have three small bowls ready. Place the flour in one bowl. Beat the egg and the water in the second bowl. Mix the breadcrumbs with the salt and black pepper in a third bowl.

3

Remove the cheese from the freezer, and dredge each patty completely on all sides—first in the flour, then in the egg, followed by the breadcrumbs.

4

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Throw a small piece of breadcrumb into the oil, and if it’s sizzling, the oil is hot enough and ready for frying. Fry the cheese until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Serve warm with the potato salad.

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