Berkshire Mountain Bakery is a small, artisinal bakery located in the village of Housatonic in the beautiful Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts. Its founder Richard Bourdon (see About Us) studied and practiced the art of natural sourdough bread baking in Europe. It was there that he headed one of the first bakeries in Holland to revive and develop this neglected way of baking.
It is important to us that it be understood that we do not make sourdough bread because it has become fashionable or to uphold any particular tradition. The process of fermentation has been practiced for thousands of years and for good reason. Our ancestors, and virtually all preindustrialized peoples, soaked or fermented their grains before making them into porridge, breads, cakes and casseroles. Through scientific research, we are now able to understand why and how it all works. In addition, there are other important aspects to baking high quality, nutritious bread those being the role of proper hydration and the benefit of freshly milled whole grain flour. We discuss all of this in greater detail below.
Simply stated, the sourdough process (fermentation) begins with a natural leaven or “starter” consisting of flour and water that are left to ferment. Lactic bacteria and wild yeasts occurring naturally in the environment feed on nutrients in the flour and begin to multiply. With this organic process, it is important that the baker pay attention to such elements as termperature and time. These organisms transform or breakdown food components in the flour into a simpler form that is more easily digested and produces carbonic gas causing the dough to rise. This is important for a lighter texture and even, thorough baking.
Phytic acid (an organic acid in which phosphorus is bound) is present in all grains in the outer layer or bran. Untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. Soaking or fermenting or sprouting grains allows enzymes, lactobacilli and other helpful organisms to break down and neutralize phytic acid. A diet high in unfermented whole grains, particularly high-gluten grains like wheat, puts an enormous strain on the whole digestive system.
Soaking, fermenting or sprouting grains also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors, present in all seeds, and encourages the production of numerous beneficial enzymes. The action of these enzymes also increases the amounts of many vitamins, especially B vitamins. Enzyme inhibitors are part of the seed machinery and serve a purpose. But these inhibitors are out of place in our bodies. They could stop our own enzymes from working. Roasting seeds also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors, but does not provide the enhanced benefits of soaking, fermenting or sprouting.
Berkshire Mountain Bakery bakes with sourdough to ferment the grains for our bread and uses sprouted grain spelt flour for our cookies (see Richard’s Bent – April 2008). We also use proper hydration and freshly milled whole grain flour in our commitment to bring the most nutritious and delicious bread to you. Bread is cooked grains. What does cooked actually mean? A grain is cooked when its starch component has been gelled. When gelled starch comes in contact with the salivary enzyme during chewing, the starch is converted to maltose sugar allowing it to assimilate quicker during digestion. The elements needed to cook grains properly are sufficient water, heat, and time. If any of these three conditions are missing or inadequate, the starch will not gel properly resulting in breads that are harder to digest and less flavorful.
White flour has a good shelf life because there is nothing in it that can go bad. On the other hand, whole grain flour is composed of substances that can and will go bad/rancid (oxidation of minerals in the grain due to over exposure to air). This oxidation process begins after milling and although there are many theories regarding how long flour is “good”, no scientist will argue against the old adage of “the fresher, the better.” Berkshire Mountain Bakery has addressed this issue by milling our whole grain flours on site using a slow stone mill.
We have been baking for over 25 years always vigilant about how we bake, but more importantly, always informed as to why we use the method and ingredients that we do. Thus we can speak of a truly dynamic art of bread baking that involves a very basic interaction with nature. The result is authentic, wholesome and natural bread with a rich flavor and aroma that is light in texture and truly nourishing.
Sally Fallon; Nourishing Traditions
Edward Howell, MD; Food Enzymes for Health and Longevity