The Slow Act of Fermentation

Baking bread is my zen time; it slows my roll and gives me time to think. When I’m in bread-baking mode it’s hard for me to make just one loaf so, much to Rob’s chagrin, I’ll double or quadruple the recipe. What I don’t give away I wrap tightly and store in the freezer.

Fermentation is nature’s miracle. How simple flour and water with yeast collected from the air can create a fragrant and complexly flavored loaf of bread, that will never be reproduced exactly the same due to changes in weather, flour and time, is awe inspiring. The same miracles of fermentation go into wine-making. Each year the make-up of the ingredients shift according to nature – weather, temperature and time. Grapes, as an ingredient, aren’t constant. It is up to us as winemakers, to work with what nature has given us and ferment them into wine that reflects the nature of the vintage. It’s the same way a baker shapes the flavor and texture of their bread using artisanal flour whose make-up changes slightly with each wheat harvest and how the captured yeast adds its aroma and flavor based on when and how it was fed. Managing fermentation is a very complex art shaped by the hand of the baker and the wine-maker. The outcome is never guaranteed – perhaps that’s why I enjoy the process so much.

The process begins with water and yeast in a bowl and continues on until the final long proof in a banneton or other similarly shaped vessel. I prefer the banneton for fermentation. Its coiled cane sides allow for an easy and gentle release of the dough from the form. A lightly floured linen or cotton liner also helps to release the dough and keep the coils clean. I use my banneton not only to shape and proof bread but to serve it. I throw a nice napkin into the banneton to line it and voila a perfect breadbasket.

I think bread and wine are perfect together because of the fermentation process. I like nothing better than a slice of freshly baked bread spread with funky soft cheese or a piece toasted with bubbling melted cheese on top. For our Four Vineyards Pinot Noir I would choose a grilled cheese made with Comte cheese or Cowgirl Creamery’s Wagon Wheel. So simple, yet so delicious.

Until the Next Wine…

EAT: Homemade Sourdough Bread