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Flavor 12: Whole Wheat Sourdough

November 24, 2014

Flat Rock Village Bakery's Whole Wheat Sourdough bread is anything but run-of-the-mill. For one thing, it's made with one hundred percent North Carolina grain, freshly stone milled in Asheville by visionary organization Carolina Ground.

Unlike most breads labeled whole wheat, which actually contain some percentage of demineralized white flour, this one is nutrition packed with one hundred percent whole wheat.

And then there's the oven it's baked in. Made of brick, it's wood fired during the day to turn out pizza -- just one of offerings of the Flat Rock bakery, which also serves salads and sandwiches in addition to a wide array of tempting baked goods like danishes, cookies, croissants, bagels, and biscotti.

Bakery manager and co-owner David Workman explains that in the evenings, the brick oven is sealed up. When the baker reopens it each morning, he just has to sweep out the previous day's ash and coals and he's good to go. The oven is still hot.

In addition to managing Flat Rock Village Bakery, Dave also co-owns Fletcher Village Bakery in Fletcher and West First Wood-Fired, a pizza restaurant in Hendersonville. He says it's fun to use traditional methods. He does the baking himself three or four mornings a week, and says the residual heat of the brick oven is usually enough to get a thick crust but keep the interior of the bread very moist. Brick oven breads tend to have a thicker, darker crust from the caramelization of the natural sugars in the dough, which enhances the natural sweetness of the flour.

Like most of their breads, the Whole Wheat Sourdough is naturally fermented, using sourdough starter (the "levain" from the French pain au levain) rather than commercial yeast. It is said that using wild yeast (or "mother dough," as it's sometimes called) in baked goods yields improved texture and more complex, compelling flavor. Like with other fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, and kombucha, natural fermentation also enriches the bread with enzymes and probiotics from the fermentation process. Dave says natural fermentation also makes the bread easier to digest and brings out the flavor of the grain.

All of Flat Rock Village Bakery's breads get an extra boost of flavor and digestibility from being fermented overnight. The longer rise improves flavor, allows more sugar to be available to caramelize, and breaks down grains to make the bread more digestible. But being sourced and milled completely locally with one hundred percent whole wheat flour, the Whole Wheat Sourdough is Dave's favorite of the breads they sell.

This is the second year Dave has sourced most of his flours from Carolina Ground. "Everything about the bread is better," he says. "The flavor, especially, is amazing." Dave thinks the freshly ground, stone ground flour is a lot more alive and has a lot more nutrients than standard roller mill flour, which has gone through a higher heat during the milling process.

Dave personally eats almost completely organic and prefers to eat whole as opposed to more processed or refined grains. He uses whole wheat flour in his brownies and cookies, and would prefer to use only whole wheat flour in all of his baked goods, but, he explains, customers like white bread. He sources the white flour he does use from organic North Carolina mill Lindley Mills. "I want people to feel good about the food they're eating when they're here," says Dave. "I'm always looking for more ways to keep it more local."

Flat Rock Village Bakery has an outdoor patio but only a small indoor seating area with a handful of tables. I'm told there is no bread slicer because there is no room for one, so loaf customers need to cut their own. Still, Dave is happy with the scale and feel of the bakery and says he's not looking to expand. "The locals are into the experience they're going to have here," he explains. He says he hears a lot of positive feedback from customers who appreciate the traditional technique and local sourcing of the offerings here.

"A lot of the flavor of a loaf of bread is in the crust," he explains, handing me the darkest Whole Wheat Sourdough loaf of the morning batch. At home, I open the brown paper bag and cut a slice. Irregular, medium sized holes. A deep aroma and mildly sweet nuttiness, with any acidic notes serving only to enhance the natural grain flavor. As described, the crust was hard, the interior soft. Chewing it felt good. My toddler couldn't chew the crust by herself, but she kept asking for more.

Bread. I'm reminded of my time in Azerbaijan, where bread was so essential to any meal that meal and bread shared the same name. To call me for lunch or dinner, my host mother would say, "Carla, come eat bread!" The village women there baked their bread outdoors in a clay oven. But even in rural Azerbaijan, they used white flour and commercial yeast -- neither locally produced.

So, I pondered, as a enjoyed another slice of the Whole Wheat Sourdough from Flat Rock Village Bakery. Maybe there is a way to have the best of both worlds. I chewed some more. I felt nourished. I felt thankful.

Try a loaf for yourself at Flat Rock Village Bakery in Flat Rock, or at their smaller sibling, Fletcher Village Bakery in Fletcher.