The best cooker of all types of food is pottery – fired clay, whether it is a pottery vessel or a clay oven. A masonry oven is capable of storing an immense amount of heat during its firing cycle. Then, after a settling down period, radiating it both powerfully and gently, whether your food to be cooked is bread, meat, fish, vegetables, or puddings and cakes.
PANYOL OVENS are so special because they are made of clay. Their manufacturer, FAYOL, of Provence, quarries from their own clay pits the unrivalled white clay of Lanarge which is high in alumina and silica. When it is kilned at around 1000 degrees it makes the highest quality refractory material – perfect for a masonry oven that is made without cements or other bonding additives. Pure clay for pure food.
FAYOL have a real pedigree. This firm, using its famous white clay that was used extensively by the Romans when their empire embraced Provence, was at the forefront of the early days of refractories, beginning in the 1850’s. Prior to the birth of refractory masonry most French ovens were built of stone, often river-bed stones. The ovens are shaped as hemispheres, or elongations of the shape, which is widely recognised as the superior shape for a baking chamber as the hemisphere permits the most efficient radiation of endlessly bouncing heat rays.
In recent times, a change of ownership saw the firm enter the field of wood-fired ovens that can be easily constructed by the owner, who may be a hobby baker requiring a small oven, or a professional person wanting a larger one. Le Panyol as a brand then entered the market. At the core of the whole enterprise is the design knowledge that brings superb ovens that are also easy to build. Many purchasers are people who fancy the challenge of building structures for themselves. The core of the smaller ovens can be constructed in an hour. Those less keen on “DIY” may employ others to make outdoor kitchens or landscaped areas featuring outdoor cooking. Cooking and eating in the garden is indeed a modern approach to informal entertaining and family fun.
Panyol ovens display their quality in several major ways. After the firing phase there is very efficient heat retention, the heat being stored in the masonry. This permits a sustained period of cooking on the gradually falling heat: you may begin with flatbreads and pizzas, cooking around a banked up pile of hot coals; then you can proceed to cook briskly both meat and fish; next the coals must be removed to go on cooking large loaves; finally, on the slowly falling heat you can proceed with casseroles, puddings and cakes, or slow-cooking types of meat. Another quality feature is the thick floor tiles, made of refractory masonry which is like earthenware, enabling massive heat to be radiated without too much harshness. There is also evenness of baking. When the portable door is placed in the opening, the heat within the chamber is very even, enabling the loaves at the front to cook in the same time as those at the back.
By firing the chamber with wood, fine deposits of ash enhance the flavour of flatbreads and pizza, as well as the bottom crust of a loaf of bread. Further, wood is environmentally green, being a renewable resource – surely an important consideration in our polluted world.
Today in the UK there are now three distributors handling these superb ovens.