“Welcome to my bakery! This is my oven!” says Viktor Sveinsson, the quintessential bearded Icelandic man who stars in Alison Grasso’s short film, Volcano Bread, as he walks through black sand toward a gurgling hot spring carrying a shovel and a pot. A delicious Icelandic rye bread has been baking under the ground here at about 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit) for the last 24 hours, and a few moments later, he proves it, digging up another pot from the earth and revealing the perfect loaf within. As Sveinsson, an employee at Laugarvatn Fontana Spa, cuts the loaf into slices he says that the bread is made with four cups of rye flour, two cups of wheat flour, two cups of sugar, four teaspoons of baking powder, one liter of milk, and a pinch of salt. He serves the bread with butter, everyone tries some, and viewers die of jealousy. It’s a great film.
“I don’t know if anyone else agreed with me, but when he took it out of the ground, the bread had a bit of a bacon-y smell to it to me,” Grasso told me. “It doesn’t taste at all what the American perception of rye is. It was quite sweet and dense and almost more like an Irish brown bread than what we consider to be rye flavor. It has a lot of sugar in it, and because it’s slow-cooked that increases the sweet flavor. It’s a little bit molasses-y, a little bit cake-y in nature.”
Grasso, a commercial video editor by day, first visited Iceland in 2015, and she liked it so much she decided to take her cousin there for her birthday this past March. In 2012, Grasso won the “Best Made in New York” award at New York’s Food Film Festival for a film she made about the bakers (and Extra Crispy contributors) Matt and Allison Robicelli, and was looking for a subject for new film. Online, she came across Laugarvatn Fontana Spa, which, through its “Rye Bread Experience,” offers guests a look at the spa’s geothermal bakery and a taste of the bread made there. During their tour of Iceland’s Golden Circle, they stopped for a few hours at the spa to film the documentary, which won the “Best Super Short Film” award at the festival this year. Audiences who saw the film at the festival this weekend got to try the bread, which was shipped overnight from Iceland.
“With most of my videos, I’m trying to communicate a feeling and an experience as opposed to it being strictly informational or educational. In March especially, Iceland is this place that’s somehow both exotic and wild but at the same time quite colorless and gray,” Grasso said. “I think those are kind of conflicting feelings but that’s what makes it interesting to me. I just wanted the film to feel like how it feels to be there.”