Remember when you thought Wonder Bread was the best thing since, well, sliced bread? When sweet and squishy white-as-snow sandwiches spread with peanut butter were your jam?
Thankfully (hopefully) you’ve grown out of that phase and appreciate authentically good bread, which we have plenty of in WNC. And really good bread must be made with high-quality wheat. Just ask Jennifer Lapidus, the organic grains coordinator for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. "Speaking as a retired baker, when you're baking, you can't just use any old flour," she says.
The Asheville Artisan Bread Bakers Festival, in its eighth year, takes place on Saturday, March 24. If anyone knows about good flour and wholesome bread, it’s the folks organizing and participating in this event. And this year’s theme, “Local Grain, Local Flour, Local Bread," particularly speaks to the efforts bakers are making to bring us the best bread possible using locally grown and milled flour.
During the first Bread Bakers Festival, some of the bakers met for dinner and discovered that they shared a common goal — the desire to bake a better local loaf from the ground up. "And when the wheat prices hit the roof and everyone was stunned by not just the price hike but the poor quality and inconsistency [of flour, we realized] we all needed to come together," says Lapidus. That planted the seeds for the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project, an effort of the CFSA. The project’s love child is the Carolina Ground mill, which, when fully operational, will close the link between the farmer and the baker, offering geographically distinct bread made with locally grown grains.
"The confidence and enthusiasm behind local grain [and] local flour is huge," Lapidus says. "To me, it seems like Asheville and the rest of WNC upholds the craft-food production in this area. We have a good handful of local, small-business bakeries. Now that we're able to access local grains as well, we're going to be able to close the loop and keep the money in the state and have the farmers benefit from our bakeries, too. This is going on all over the country in little tiny pockets, but we're on the cutting edge — we're part of this wave of pioneers.”
The Artisan Bread Bakers festival will offer information on the mill’s progress — and you may even see it in action. Thom Leonard, a professional baker for more than 35 years and consultant for Heartland Mills, will present workshops on milling and baking with local wheat. Professor Stephen Jones, wheat geneticist and breeder from Washington State University, will lecture on the local-grain movement and recent results in the breeding of organic grain and perennial wheat. "We're bringing in some serious rock stars, as far as I'm concerned," says Lapidus.
The AABBF begins with a bread tasting and sale at the Magnolia Building on the A-B Tech campus on Saturday, March 24, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Hands-on workshops and lectures take place from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the same location. For the full schedule, visit http://www.ashevillebreadfestival.com.