by Sanny Visser
April 10, 2014. What are the secrets of true food artisans in the Appalachian Mountains? How do they make that one thing that keeps you coming back for more? We go behind the scenes to meet local bakers, restauranteurs, butchers, brewers and other passionate craftsmen to find out. This time, we visited Stick Boy Bread Company in Boone to “stick our nose” in their signature bread: Carolina Sourdough, a traditional rustic bread made with local, stoneground flour.
Jeremy Bollman, 33, is head bread baker at Stick Boy Bread Company and accidentally fell in love with bread making three years ago on is search for what he wanted in life. It was love at first sight, or bite if you like, especially with the Carolina Sourdough.
“Bread full of healthy nutrients and delicious taste, that’s the reason I get up in the morning,” Bollman said. “To make bread that nourishes people.
Technically, Bollman doesn’t get up in the morning to bake bread. The bakers start at 5 in the afternoon and bake until far beyond midnight with all breads baked in the back of the store. The Carolina Sourdough has a specific procedure.
“This is the dough we mix first and bake last,” Bollman said. “You want as much time as possible to enrich the flavor.”
When Bollman explains their choice for using stoneground, red wheat flour, you can tell he’s on a mission.
“Almost all of the flour in the U.S. is roller-milled instead of stoneground,” Bollman said. “During the rolling process, the healthy part of a grain kernel, the germ, gets stripped and sieved out. Many oils and vitamins are in the germ, that’s the life force of the grain. Roller mills are simply built to extract as much white flour out of the grain as possible. But, when flour is stoneground, the germ gets crushed and smeared out over the starch. My goal is to convince at least one person a day to choose this sourdough instead of highly processed bread. We have to educate people.”
Listening to Bollman makes you realize that baking artisan bread is a highly complex process and has nothing to do with Wonder Bread which is made in fully automated factories with cultivated flour. Since flour is a natural product, the process can be just as unpredictable as making wine, so knowledge is an indispensable ingredient.
Also indispensable for this particular bread is the sourdough starter, a lively community of microorganisms with a bacterial culture similar to that in yogurt. Instead of yeast bought from a store that is made of monoculture yeast pressed together in a lab, sourdough starter is wild yeast that occurs naturally in four and starts multiplying under the right circumstances. If you keep feeding it once it is “alive” you can use it for years.
“We don’t add any industrial yeast,” Bollman said. “It’s just the sourdough. It takes three times more rising time compared to other bread because of that.”
The process starts by wetting the flour so enzymes that break down starch can activate. Wet dough rests on a shelf for thirty minutes, then Bollman adds more water together with the starter and a little salt.
“I want to add as much water as possible to make it nice and moisturized,” Bollman said.
This soft dough rests in a box for two to three hours while Bollman gives it a good stretch and fold every 45 minutes. During the preshape that follows, he cuts the dough in balls of 1,000 grams and lets them relax on a table for another 45 minutes. Now, the balls are ready for their final, manual shaping.
Perfectly formed, they go into baskets covered with linen fabric for another six hours of resting in the fridge.
Being a sourdough is obviously a life without stress, but don’t be envious; it’s essential to let dough become the best version of itself.
“Inside the fridge, fermentation starts breaking down starches, making bread healthier for us in the end. It’s easier to digest and less irritating for the intestinal walls,” said Bollman.
Before a ball hits the hot, stone floor oven for 25 minutes, the baker scores it with a razor blade to create the wheat-shaped design on the crust. All this hard work results in a loaf of artisan sourdough made with local flour, containing lots of nutrition.
“Do you know the most beautiful part?” Bollman asked.
“Dough made of only wheat flour, starter and water is simply everything you need to make delicious bread.”
And Bollman’s personal favorite way to eat his bread?
“Toasted, with a slice of pan-fried ham, scrambled eggs and cheese,” he said. “I call that a truly baker’s breakfast.”