It was while working at Epiphany Farms Restaurant in his hometown of Bloomington, Ill., that Jay Seibert had a revelation of his own. “I started out there washing dishes and then prepping veggies,” he says. “One of the chefs there thought I would be good at bread, so I started making bread there and loved it.”
Though the restaurant focused on white-flour, yeasted breads, Seibert found himself fascinated with sourdough. “I did learn scale and how to make large batches of dough, and I just kept sourdough in the back of my mind,” he says.
A few years later, Seibert and his wife, Shelby, left Illinois and “stumbled into Yancey County,” where he got a job doing the bread service for Fox & the Fig in Spruce Pine. This arrangement set in motion a series of precipitous events that led to his current, growing business, J Bread.
“I had been reading up on rye bread and how healthy it is, and I just had to make that bread,” he explains. “If I was going to bake bread, it had to be organic, stone-milled flour. I found Carolina Ground and, if not for them, I couldn’t have done this.”
With his own starter and bags of rye flour from Carolina Ground, Seibert began baking loaves of sourdough rye in the restaurant’s oven on Mondays, when it was closed, then selling them at the Micaville Farmers Market in Burnsville.
It was at the market that he met artist and stonemason Jerry Newton, who offered his wood-fired oven in the space he was converting into the Mushroom Factory artist studios. A short time later, Seibert debuted his J Bread seeded rye at the North Asheville Tailgate Market.
“That blew everything out of the water,” he recalls. “I was baking for 24 hours straight, like 100 loaves of bread, and then going to market. I needed my own, bigger oven.”
He didn’t have to go far. He received a loan from a local lender group, and Newton leased him space in his building; with the assistance of friends and local craftsmen, he lit the first fire in the J Bread oven in June 2019.
“The main motivation behind the wood-fired oven is to be more resilient. I cut and stack all my own wood, which I get mostly as cut-offs from local mills and logging operations,” he says. “I try to use the stuff considered the lowest grade, like poplar, hemlock and pine. They burn a superhot, bright flame. I can do 50 pan loaves at a time and about 30 hearth loaves.”
The most popular of his heavy, dense loaves is the sourdough seeded rye. He also does a Turkey Red whole-grain heirloom wheat loaf, a lighter sesame wheat variety (that is not fully whole grain, he explains) and a Latvian-style circular loaf called Riga rye.
Seibert is most excited by the 100% Einkorn wheat bread he makes using grain milled by Farm & Sparrow. “Einkorn is an ancient strain of wheat, the oldest strain on Earth, from the first domesticated strain of wheat,” he says. “It is such a pleasure to have access to that and share it through my bread.”
J Bread is sold at local tailgate markets, including the Asheville City Market. To be added to the J Bread mailing list for availability updates, contact Seibert at firstname.lastname@example.org.