There are seven stages in our bread-making process.
Soil, Seed, Plant, Grain, Flour, Dough, Bread
Good soil is the foundation for healthy plants and healthy people. The farmers we work with use compost, cover crops, crop rotations, and mineral balancing to ensure their soils are teeming with microbial activity and able to foster nutrient-rich food. We hope our grain purchasing will be a direct investment in regional soil health.
Compost at Grapewood Farm.
What to plant? Seed selection is important, especially in whole-grain baking. We look for grains with character and deep flavor. And we prioritize using grains that are especially nutrient-dense: rich in fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Breeders and farmers work together to save, breed, and amplify the best seeds for our region. We’re lucky to bake with varieties like Sonora, Expedition, Alice, Bolles, Pennoll, Einkorn, Hourani, Abruzzi Rye, Sahabagi Rice, Streaker Oats, and Koto Buckwheat. Part of our work involves collaborating with farmers to test their grain’s bread-making qualities and plan for next season’s planting.
After the seed is sewn, it must be nurtured into a healthy plant. Careful planning goes into each season to maximize the health of the plant. (Should we plant the buckwheat in the northeast field after the winter wheat, or the south field after the oat and alfalfa cover crop?) Our grain farmers nurture their crops with rounds of mineral foliar feeding and gentle weeding. The grass plants grow tall and green, intertwined with blue bachelor buttons, red poppies, and the hum of pollinators. These vibrant fields inspired our name “Meadow Bread.”
(L) Winter wheat emerging in early spring, Grapewood Farm. (R) Rye and clover, Next Step Produce.
When the plants turn golden, and the seeds have fully ripened, it’s time to harvest. Our grain farmers are expert in navigating the unpredictable summer rains and harvesting at just the right moment. They’ve built or purchased genius machines to dry, clean, and store their grain at peak quality. When we source a bag of grain, we look for it to be clean, dry, plump, and smell fresh and cereally.
Next, we take the grain and mill it into flour using a stonemill. Using a stonemill keeps the flour cool, presses the aromatic oils into the starchy endosperm, and yields an especially creamy flour. We mill fresh flour for each bake and keep it 100% whole, never sifting, to retain nutrients and fiber vital to our health. This also means we don’t discard any part of the grain the farmers and soils work so hard to produce during the season.
(Clockwise) Hand-mixing dough in our maple trough. Nixtamalized corn. Oats and buckwheat in the hopper.
Next, it’s time to mix the dough. We take our flour from the mill and add water, mineral-rich salt, and our levain (sourdough starter). Sometimes we add a grain inclusion like nixtamalized corn, buckwheat soaked in whey, or a rye porridge for extra texture and flavor. We mix the dough by hand, in wooden troughs. When the dough is developed, we leave it to rise and ferment. Our breads are naturally leavened with a levain, a simple mixture of flour and water that hosts a culture of native yeasts and bacteria. The natural fermentation process unlocks the nutrition bound in the flour, breaks down gluten to make breads more digestible, and adds deep, nuanced flavors and aroma to the bread. After the dough is thoroughly fermented and risen, we gently shape the loaves, preserving the loft and suppleness we worked hard to build. The shaped loaves rest for an hour or so before baking.
Finally, the dough is ready to be baked and make its final transformation into bread in our wood-fired, masonry and brick bread oven. The day before a bake, we build and feed a fire that saturates the hearth with heat. The next morning when we’re ready to load the oven, we sweep out the embers that have died down overnight and bake off of the retained heat. Baking with wood and fire connects us to the elements and to the long tradition of wood-fired bakers before us. We bake our loaves until they develop a dark, crisp crust that brings out the full flavor of the grain. Some bitterness in the crust complements the nutty, creamy flavor of the crumb and aids in digestion and satiability.
(Clockwise) Kindling. Oven builder, Jon Santiago, showing us our oven for the first time. Rye bread. Fresh baguettes out of the oven. Peel!