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Wild-Starter Heirloom Grain Breads

 

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Leavened with wild microbes only

My journey into breadmaking has just begun, and it's such fun that I hope it will never end. Compared to making cheese, breadmaking is cheap, fast, and completely safe! Keeping wild-starter bread free of dangerous contaminants is very doable, since the oven takes care of the job. Great flour is ever easier to come by, or to grind at home. Making a fantastic loaf takes only a few hours, or up to a couple days of mostly inactive time. And imagine: In the four months it takes to age one wheel of cheese, I could make bread 112 times! All this means breadmaking is pretty free of hassle and stress—for a cheesemaker, anyway.

That's not to say it's easy. Breadmaking is one of those endeavors that's composed equally of art, science, and magic, especially when you rely solely on wild starters. Fortunately, information in the bread world flows freely. There are many great folks breaking ground ahead of us newbies. Just a few who have helped me in person, and via the written word include Sarah Owens, Mike The BejkerTrevor Wilson, Sarah Black, Maurizo, Craig Ponsford, Jeffery Hamelman, and everyone at Central Milling and the San Francisco Baking Institute. Each of them willingly shares amazing information and experience. Depending on how far along you are in the learning process, you can find someone on that list who's a good fit. If you want to make bread, these resources are a great place to start. But a warning about making and eating this bread: It's addictive!

My experiments with backyard terroir have not led me to growing fields of specialty grain. (Well, maybe an heirloom like Seashore Black Rye!) That said, many fanatical, passionate farmers are reviving heirloom grains and making them available to equally fanatical and passionate bakers. The backyard-terroir element of my bread is to use native microbes as the sole leavening agent. While many bakers use yeast, either entirely or as a complement, I'm taking a purist approach. For me, it's wild microbes only!

Relying on native microbes is what makes breadmaking an interesting parallel with cheese. Bread and cheese both can be fermented naturally with willingly domesticated, wild microbes. Keeping these little bugs happy is the secret to producing unique, delicious, nutritious and digestible wheels and loaves. I think of it as microbe farming.

My bread posts will be a learn-as-I-go proposition. I have to admit, I'm still enamored with every loaf I make, so you can expect a few crumb shots along the way. I'm truly at the point where I've learned just enough to be dangerous! If the drama of the journey excites you, follow along...

 

 
 
  Each increment of improvement feels like a miracle!

Each increment of improvement feels like a miracle!

  At my farm, this is what happens to lousy baguettes!

At my farm, this is what happens to lousy baguettes!