This is a follow-up on the entry on VPN Pizza. It results from this interview by a blogger with Eli Colvin, head baker of the MODEL Bakery in California, and Don Sadowsky, whom the interviewer identifies as a "bread pal." Don happens to be my bread pal, too, which is how I found the interview.
A lot of the interview has to do with the question of whether there is a definitive standard for what constitutes "artisan bread". As I argued in the prior article, in the end these are two words in the English language you’re not going to get complete agreement on. Don sums it up nicely:
Artisan bread has a cachet that is well deserved, and lots of big boys want in on it. Should we care that a lot of factory bread has the label “Artisan”? “Natural”, “Gourmet” and similar designations have been so debased that they mean nothing (if they ever had any real meaning), though people may react subliminally. Same thing with artisan?
Australia has an Artisan Baker Association, which, much like VPN for pizza, sets standards for bread. While its name is obviously generic, it has a whimsical logo that most likely gives it a strong trademark in Australia, or anywhere else. Indeed, it has members in Georgia, Massachusetts, New York and even Alaska. It’s a mark that could mean something to consumers, but of course there is a lot of excellent bread in the marketplace that doesn’t have that mark.
In Britain, there is the Real Bread Campaign, which has a comprehensive FAQ about its goals. It coined the term "tanning salons" to apply to bakeries in large grocery stores that simply bake pre-prepared loaves. Sadowsky asks,
Are the people who shop at grocery store “tanning salons” people who might otherwise shop at an independent bakery, or are they merely moving from the prepackaged bread aisle to the “artisan” aisle? I read over and over again about the decline of small bakeries, but I don’t know if it’s just that people won’t spend the money for handmade bread period, regardless of what kind of bread they find in the supermarkets.
That’s not a question that will have the same answer for everyone who buys bread in a supermarket bakery. Like it or not, the availability of bread that meets these standards is not, and is unlikely ever to be, universal. The families you can see doing their grocery shopping, sleepy kids in tow, after midnight (the only time the parents working two jobs have time to shop), is not going to have a chance to sample Eli Colvin’s bread. Even those who might shop when the MODEL or its peers is open don’t all live in what he calls a "progressive food area". And even he has taken to using machinery for some of his production, just to keep up with demand.
As a lifelong home baker I entirely agree with Eli that "bread is edible art." I grew up in a home where the paintings on the wall were by my dad and my son grew up in a house where the bread in the kitchen was made by his dad. But not everyone is going to get there.