Throughout the course of my life, both as a consumer and as a chef, I have eaten a lot of bread. From PB&Js on white as a kid, to hoagies in Philadelphia, to "artisanal" bread baskets in high-end restaurants, I thought I knew what good bread was.
I was wrong.
Sadly, it wasn't until the last few years that I started paying attention, learning, and then experimenting with bread production. A lot of what I've learned is considered geeky or high-level shit by some people in the food industry, but it's not.
It's simple: Great bread is endowed by a baker, not a machine. Great bread is made through the ancient practice of using freshly milled flour.
By the powers of the Earth and all her grains, I have learned that there is a distinct difference between that which is created by hand and executed with attention, and that which is left to be manufactured.
There are many defining characteristics of what makes great bread: taste, of course, but also nutrition, farming, perishability, and the availability of whole grains—not to mention the baker's hand and expertise.
But in my opinion, in order to improve these all of these qualities, I'm gunning for what could be called the last frontier in food sourcing—where bakers mill their flour, ferment naturally, and include the whole seed that has carried us as a species through time.
It's not that crazy of an idea. Just as the last decade has seen the organic and sustainable movements become mainstream, there's nothing to say that bread (and in fact, all flour-based baked goods) cannot be truly healthy and whole.
It's our duty to stop buying bad bread and start buying the good shit, the real shit.
But it will take the consumer to make this happen. For markets that derive their income from demand, it will take the people passing on commodity breads, and even that overpriced 12-grain flax/spelt health loaf at the greenmarket, to lay a foundation and create a demand that will turn the world into a tastier place.
Unfortunately, prudence will dictate that established markets will not be changed easily; and accordingly, the battle is that until bodegas, pizza shops, sandwich joints, restaurants, and food trucks do the right thing by throwing their overproduced white-ass bread into the compost for the worms and dirt, freshly milled breads won't be the standard.
So now the time has come. I hereby find it necessary to sever my gastronomical ties with bread products that come from, as my English colleague says, dodgy flour.
In an industry driven by big agriculture, commodity flour, additive-enriched bread, and the restaurants and supermarkets that sell it, I say it's our right, our duty, to stop buying it and start buying the good shit, the real shit.
I really believe we can change the bread market. The history of bread involves all nations and people. Talking about bread with the intent to change its quality—and its recent mass-produced, tasteless incarnations—will most certainly be a conversation about improving our food culture.
With a recognition of our growing population of people with "gluten sensitivity," upset stomachs, and tainted taste buds attributed to poorly made bread, I ask that you, people who care, consider this personal declaration a credo.
Over the course of this column I will be talking about bread quality, bread making, and bread sourcing as it relates to our tastes and our wellbeing. I hope you take it with a "grain" of grain.