Many consumers, manufacturers and retailers alike tend to think “homemade” when they think of artisan breads. And this begs the question, when it comes to making bread on a mass scale, can it still really be artisanal?
Well, the short answer is yes — it just depends on what your personal definition of artisanal is. The truth is that when you take into account ingredients and time-intensive processing, artisan bread and mass production are not mutually exclusive.
Alon Ozery, founder of Ozery Bakery and head of its R&D department, is very strict when it comes to the word ‘artisanal,’ preferring to use the label ‘all-natural.’ Yet his, along with fellow New York bakery Jessica’s Brick Oven, are both wholesale operations working artisanal magic.
Ozery considers the matter of which buzzwords to employ one of personal integrity, and it has irrefutably helped the Ozery brand grow, ensuring their customers’ loyalty and trust in them. But is it worth it from a financial standpoint? That answer is a definite yes, because here, trust equals triumph.
“I think there was some luck at the beginning,” Ozery reflects, “because we were lucky to be on the wave of natural bread before natural breads and flours were ‘in.’ We were just on the cusp of that. But then we were unlucky when the gluten-free nonsense started, but you know what? Our sales didn’t go down. We see consistent growth because customers believed what we said and they kept on; even if some stopped buying, more started buying. And I’m not saying that we had huge increases during these couple of years the whole thing kind of exploded, but we definitely saw moderate growth.”
And of course it’s not just the ingredients that are considered and handled using artisan methods, he says. It’s also the processing and caring of the dough.
“When it comes to the processing, even though we do have lines that manufacture our products, our lines are custom made for them, and they’re basically aligned to our size,” Ozery says. “For an industrial bakery making similar products, they would be able to make 3 to 4 times more product per hour than what our lines make. We don’t use different oils to lubricate, we don’t use a lot of chemicals that are used to soften doughs or are used to make the line work much faster.”
Not everyone is so shy about calling themselves artisanal though. Nicholas Boghos, director of sales and marketing at Jessica’s Brick Oven Bakery, says it’s really all about the time you put into it.
“Artisan breads are those that are fermented slowly and allowed to rest for long periods, the old-fashioned way, in order to develop the bread’s cell-structure and flavors,” Boghos says. “We use very simple but high-quality ingredients, and follow a strict process that cannot be rushed — it takes over 24 hours to make a single batch from start to finish, though we do have it in a constant flow. The bread is also made in small batches, relatively speaking, and the result is an extremely flavorful bread with open-cell structure and great texture.”
“We start with making a batch of sourdough and let it ferment naturally before using it in our recipes,” says Lisa Dambrosio, manager of marketing and special projects for Ozery. “Then we add yeast and allow the products to rise naturally during the proofing process. The key element here is time — and a few Ozery baking secrets.”
So it’s not a walk in the park to be in the all-natural bread game, neither baker will deny that, but for them it’s still worth it. “Producing artisan breads and distributing across the nation is a huge challenge that not all bakeries are up to,” Boghos says. “Artisan, old-world breads require a great amount of time and attention to ensure that the finished product is of very high quality. Ambient temperatures, water temperatures, mixing processes, fermenting or proofing temperature and humidity, and the ability to replicate the process day in and day out — all of these play key roles in creating better breads.”
Ozery agrees. “Compared to others, we have a much shorter shelf life. And it’s a plus and it’s a minus, but that’s part of who we are. You meet the competition with a little concern and a lot of hard work. And in terms of having a consistent product, a quality product, communicating with your end consumer — that’s huge; we do a lot of that. And then, hope for the best. Do your best and hope for the best.”