As a person who grew up eating peanut butter and relish sandwiches, editor Dan Malovany is the last person to be talking about taste. So when it came to discussing artisan breads, he reached out to the experts.
As a person who grew up eating peanut butter and relish sandwiches, I’m the last person anyone should talk to about taste. So when it came to discussing artisan breads, I reached out to the experts.
And, boy, did I get an earful. When it comes to defining what qualifies as an “artisan” bread, the bakers I talked to recently let the passion flow.
Speaking for a lot of bakers, Shannon Talty, owner of Olde Hearth Bread Co. in Casselberry, Fla., suggested that many companies call their breads “artisan” when they are clearly not.
“It has become a marketing tag that has lost its identity,” Talty said. “My interpretation is that artisan baking implies a return to the practices of using methods that focus on hand development and an eye toward buying the best ingredients and producing products from scratch.”
Taking it a step further, Ralph Hoffman, sales manager for Denmark-based Lantmannen Unibake, which recently bought Eurobake of St. Petersburg, Fla., described the word “artisan” as “the most abused word in the baking industry as of late.”
Long fermentation times are the key to producing a good loaf of Old World bread. Olde Hearth Bread products, Talty noted, are created with a natural yeast starter that’s fermented overnight, rounded by hand and are baked in a Llopis oven, or the modern-day version of the authentic ovens found in the old abbeys of France, Italy and Spain.
ACE Bakery uses a dozen different types of ferments to produce its quality breads and rolls. Philip Shaw, president of the Toronto-based company, believes the consumer’s perception of “artisan” has to do with the product’s attributes such as an open-hole structure, a richness in taste and a high contrast between the crust and interior crumb texture.
“At ACE, we use natural starters, low temperature and long fermentation times, and we hand shape most of our breads,” Shaw explained. “I don’t want to get caught up in the debate on who is and who isn’t meeting the measure of being a ‘true artisan bakery.’ Let someone else be the judge. For me, it’s so much more about the quality of the bread and less about the process in which it is made.”
Automation, many bakers noted, has advanced to the point where its possible for “artisan bread” to taste and feel like their handmade counterparts.
“There are bakers whose process is truer to the definition of an artisan bakery making inferior bread, and there are bakers using more highly automated processes making superior bread,” Shaw explained. “I think the most important thing is not to fixate on preconceived notions about what process makes a better loaf of bread, but rather appreciate that ultimately you are going to put it in your mouth and eat it. I would rather focus on the consumer’s experience rather than on the process.”
Baking a good loaf of bread isn’t difficult. It just takes a little bit of passion, according to Ray Million, vice president of operations and head of research and development for Hudson Bread, North Bergen, N.J.
“Ever since I’ve been in this business the last 20 years, I listened to these guys who toot their horns on how they are using these sours that are hundreds of years old, and I respect them for having the true nature of the art of baking,” he explained. “But it’s not a complicated thing to make a good loaf of bread. It just takes dedication. It takes some understanding of the product that you’re handling and a character to present a product that you stand behind.
“I’m not snobbish about it,” he adds. “I’m just a normal guy who likes to make bread.”
Normal? What’s that? At least, even a palooka like me doesn’t put any ketchup on my hot dogs.
Dan Malovany, editor
Editor’s Note: For more information on artisan breads, check out our upcoming December issue of Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery magazine. Get the latest information on automation and technology. Sign up for SF&WB’s Operations Weekly e-newsletter. Just click on the icon on our home page.