Two-stage fermentation brings buttery and rich flavors through lactic acid at higher temperatures and sharp, vinegar notes through acetic acid at colder temperatures. All of which, Wade says, leads to a more well-rounded loaf of bread. “A lot of commercial bakeries use dough conditioners and emulsifiers and things like that, and it makes the dough behave a little bit differently from the get-go. We need to actually ferment the dough to make it mature, workable, and airy and fluffy,” Wade says. “You’re getting a much healthier product because all of these complex chains of proteins and carbohydrates are being broken down prior to us consuming it.”
Publican wholesales its bread to restaurants across Chicago, and while the long fermentation has required some acclimating for restaurant operators, Wade says they have all been supportive of the bakery and its commitment to ingredients. Publican—along with Spence Farm—is focused on education to create a market for these small grains.
“All the restaurants we sell to really support this mission and have enacted it themselves. Any restaurant in Chicago that’s not sourcing from local farms is not really [relevant]. Even eight or nine years ago, you’d see the farm names across the menu, and now they’re kind of getting away from that because of course it’s coming from local farms,” he says. “We always invite the chef here to the bakery and show them the process and everything. What they’re not used to is the long fermentation process—a chef is usually able to order something tonight for tomorrow. But I can’t make our bread in eight or nine hours; it takes 60 hours.”
Publican communicates with Spence Farm at the beginning of each growing season on what grains they would like to use so the farm can plant and plan accordingly. While the bakery primarily focuses on wheat and rye, it also uses other grains from the farm like buckwheat, barley, and oats.
“We start from the ground-up and make sure we have healthy soil; if the soil is healthy, then the plants will be healthy,” Wade says. “It’s a dynamic process. We want to make sure that it not only works for us as a bakery, but that it also works on the farm. We want to be working with our community; we want to be working with our vendors; we want to be working with our staff. We just want to get back to a more wholesome, community-oriented lifestyle.”
Inspired by Heritage
At Sub Rosa bakery in Richmond, Virginia, baker Evrim Dogu, who was also a semifinalist for this year’s James Beard: Outstanding Baker award, takes a similarly rustic approach to bread-making. Pulling inspiration from Turkey—where his parents were born—Dogu, along with his sister, has created a small-scale bakery that focuses on bread and pastries. He fell into the profession after beginning long-fermentation baking as a hobby.
“It’s kind of a way of pre-cooking, whether you do it with meat, vegetables, or—in our case—bread,” Dogu says. “I fell in love with it because it’s just using flour and water. There’s something in the purity of that. Making a leavened bread from flour, water, and salt fascinated me. It has everything it needs to become bread on its own.”