At Farm and Sparrow bakery, about 30 minutes outside Asheville in Candler, North Carolina, owner and baker Dave Bauer inspects the Austrian grain mill that grinds the organic turkey wheat, and other grains, for his dark-crusted breads. “I brought this all the way from Austria because it’s small, and adapted to the kind of bakery I’ve got,” said Bauer, his dark eyes serious as he inspected the small wood mill, nervously tapping it with a large rubber mallet to shake down the grains onto the grinding stone. “This mill is modeled after a huge one; I couldn’t get a huge one even if I wanted it, but I don’t because I don’t want my business to be huge,” Bauer said. “I want to stay small. This mill helps.”
I first tasted Mr. Bauer’s bread three years ago when I came to Asheville to teach cooking classes. My host and friend Eleanor Owen bought a loaf of grainy bread and turned to me. “You won’t believe how good this is,” she said. I bit into a slice and my mouth was flooded with a toasty, caramel flavor from the wheat and grains in the bread; the slight tang came from the sourdough, the dark crust from a wood-fired oven. She was right. It rivaled any bread I knew and loved in France.
When I visited Mr. Bauer at Farm and Sparrow and watched him sliding loaves into his huge wood-fired oven, I began to understand. Then, he started talking about his work. Bauer has a network of other bakers similar to himself who share a dream. “We want to understand how the old grain varieties work; why they give the flavors they do, why they change from year to year, how they adapt to different climates,” he said. “We want to bring them back.” Because of Bauer’s demand , several local farmers are planting increasing quantities of heirloom grains.
With the flour from these heirloom grains, Mr. Bauer makes sourdough breads. He’s about to launch a dense, thinly sliced pumpernickel-style bread which he hopes to sell throughout the region. He’s already perfected a recipe for rye puff pastry and one for rye pasta. He’s about to join a restaurant project where he will supply the grain-based ingredients – breads, pastas, pastries.
Why all these other projects when he can barely keep up with demand for his gorgeous loaves? “I want these other projects to work on their own,” he said. “If they work it will allow me to stay here, keep my bakery and my mill small, and continue to make my breads.”
This is great news for bread lovers, in Asheville and beyond.