“Everything you see right now is the result of obsession, a lot of practice and a lot of frustration,” Alonso Melgar says in earnest.
We’re standing in his Urubamba kitchen-turned-work-area during one of his twice-weekly production days for Sama Drema, his sourdough bread company. With a deck oven (“the biggest investment I’ve ever made,” notes the baker) taking over one corner of the tidy space and a busy wooden work table jutting out from the opposing wall, there’s little elbow room for visitors; then again, it’s usually just Alonso in here.
Preparing and baking an average of 32 sourdough loaves and 8 baguettes per production session, Alonso is incredibly methodical and admittedly obsessed when it comes to baking bread.
“I have an anxious way of being and I need to be constantly creating something,” he explains. “Before I explored my creativity through other forms— drawing, painting or working with wood— but now it’s with bread.”
An avid rock climber, surfer, carpenter and architect, it’s clear that Alonso is in flow when he’s moving or creating. His past endeavors and interests have even prepared him for the bread making process, especially architecture.
As the Lima native notes, “The constant investigation, careful planning and the balance of numerous variables in order to get a desired result are similar in architecture and baking sourdough bread…and the lack of sleep too.”
He weighs a precise amount of purple corn flour and then a slightly larger amount of water. These are added to a mixing bowl along with salt and, of course, some lovingly nurtured sourdough starter. Meanwhile, a large tupper of sourdough mix intended for focaccia rests nearby.
Despite his anxiety, Alonso is endearingly open and honest with his bread baking journey which began in the wake of the 2020 pandemic.
He begins to mix the wet and dry ingredients together as he recalls a craving for a healthier bread than what was sold at Lima bodegas. Though he had little knowledge at the time of what masa madre was, he had been raised in a food-curious home and set-off researching sourdough bread. After a few online tutorials and an in-person workshop before he began inviting his baked creations to friends and family.
“I really took advantage of having my teachers’ phone numbers and bothered them with a bunch of questions,” he recalls with a grin. Obsessed with his new hobby, he quickly improved his technique and recipes— so much so that, under the name Sama Drema (an anagram of the Spanish term for sourdough, ‘Masa Madre’) he was able to pay his last few months of rent in Lima with bread orders alone.
A welcomed opportunity to housesit in Urubamba eventually led to his relocation to the Sacred Valley, accompanied by his girlfriend and of course his breadmaking tools. While he experienced a smooth adaptation, his baked creations initially suffered from the +2,800-meter gain in elevation.
“The high altitude changes the hydration of the bread, so there was a lot of trial and error in adapting my recipes…and each time I changed ovens I would have to sacrifice many loaves ” he mentions, as he sets the mesmerizing soft purple mix aside, allowing it to rest and develop gluten. Reflecting on the numerous batches of frustration, he adds, “I’ve definitely grown as a person and have had to let go of being a perfectionist. It’s been very therapeutic to make bread.”
Sama Drema currently has a roster of 15 sourdough varieties, including a pillowy vegan loaf made with chestnut milk; focaccia (topped with tomato, herbs and onions, if desired); rye, and the aforementioned purple corn bread referred to as Más Morado.
And yet, the base ingredients for making sourdough bread are modest— sourdough starter, flour, salt and water—, a match for the minimalist yet conscious lifestyle that Alonso seeks. A vegan since 2020, he aspires for Sama Drema to also follow a set of principles of social and environmental responsibilities.
“I try to use local and organic ingredients that are harvested under fair practices,” he says. Large bins of grain, tucked under the work table, include a biodynamic rye from Ollantaytambo and an organic wheat from Cusco.
A bit of a sourdough puritan, Alonso has no interest in opening a bakery, pointing to local bakeries that have practically evolved into boutique shops, full of candles, natural medicine and other products in order to afford rent and other costs. That said, he is eager to share his knowledge via workshops.
A great sign of his teaching abilities is Alonso’s unfaltering determination to remain a student: “I encourage anyone to bombard me with questions, just as I did to my teachers…If someone asks a question that I don’t know the answer to, it pushes me to investigate and keep learning.”
We take a final glance at the assortment of dough resting on the Sama Drema work table, a dynamic display of the rich colors and textures that result from devotion and creativity. In a few hours Alonso will form the loaves, baking half of the orders that same night and the other half early the following morning. Each will be thoughtfully packaged in brown paper bags for delivery, which the baker typically makes on foot in the company of his beloved pup Alma.
It’s a venture of high investment in time and energy with humble profits.
“I don’t plan on becoming a millionaire by selling bread, I just want to cover the basic costs of living here in the Valley and I want to see Sama Drema continue,” says the young entrepreneur. “Making bread is what I see myself doing in the long-term.”
Contact Alonso to order a loaf of Sama Drema sourdough bread (+51 941 156 409) or follow Sama Drema on Instagram.