Den­ver’s Grate­ful Bread Com­pany rises to cel­e­brate the oc­ca­sion of Na­tional Sour­dough Day

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Kris­ten Kidd

Mom-and-pop business own­ers Jeff Cleary and Kathy Mullen pay homage to sour­dough ev­ery day at their ar­ti­san bak­ery, Grate­ful Bread Com­pany, in Golden.

April 1 is Na­tional Sour­dough Day. No fool­ing.

The cu­ra­tors at Na­tion­alDayCal­en­ mark oc­ca­sions to com­mem­o­rate ev­ery day, and Satur­day is sour­dough’s turn. (To­day, you could toast lemon chif­fon cake, man­a­tees and mom-and-pop business own­ers, for in­stance.)

Of course, mom-and-pop business own­ers Jeff Cleary and Kathy Mullen pay homage to sour­dough ev­ery day at their ar­ti­san bak­ery, Grate­ful Bread Com­pany, in Golden.

This Satur­day, the bread-mon­gers will step up their on­go­ing trib­ute to sour­dough with a large va­ri­ety of fresh baked breads and pas­tries fea­tur­ing the spe­cial in­gre­di­ent they’ve been care­fully cul­ti­vat­ing since Y2K: their all-nat­u­ral sour­dough starter.

Seven days a week, they bake for local chefs, but on Satur­days Grate­ful Bread also opens to the public from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Per­fect tim­ing for Na­tional Sour­dough Day.

“We make both milder fla­vored and stronger San Fran­cisco-style sour­doughs us­ing in-house stone­milled or­ganic flours mixed with bread flour from King Arthur,” said Cleary, Grate­ful Bread’s founder and

head baker. “The laven­der sour­dough we make for chef Jen­nifer Jasin­ski’s restau­rant Rioja has a stronger sour­dough fla­vor, and our peat-smoked bar­ley has a more sub­tle tang, for ex­am­ple.”

The bak­ers at Grate­ful Bread also make eight types of pas­tries with sour­dough, in­clud­ing a daz­zling dark Bel­gian choco­late babka. All are made with nat­u­ral and or­ganic in­gre­di­ents, largely from local sources like Motherlove Or­ganic Farm in Fort Collins, Vi­vian Farms in Lit­tle­ton, and Beeyond the Hive honey farm in El­iz­a­beth.

The bak­ery’s 23 trained ar­ti­sans are busy bees them­selves, work­ing around the clock in three shifts, 365 days a year mak­ing sour­doughs and other breads for more than 80 chef-driven restau­rants in Den­ver and Boul­der. Cleary launched the com­pany in 2005 in a tiny cabin in Ev­er­green, work­ing to gain enough clients to hire help and lease the cur­rent 8,000-square­foot space off West Col­fax Av­enue.

A team of de­liv­ery truck driv­ers trans­port Grate­ful Bread’s fresh-baked loaves, baguettes, epis, rolls and boules twice daily to restau­rants like Acorn, Fruition, Guard & Grace and Ta­bles in time for lunch and again for din­ner ser­vice in a bee-line pat­tern ef­fi­ciency ex­perts would frown on.

“Our guid­ing prin­ci­ple is qual­ity above ev­ery­thing else,” said Mullen. “From the be­gin­ning, we com­mit­ted to re­sults over prof­its. So rather than find­ing the fastest, cheap­est ways to pro­duce and sell bread, we chose ar­ti­san tech­niques for a business ap­proach we can take pride in.”

To that end, Cleary im­ported a cus­tombuilt ar­ti­san stone mill from Aus­tria in 2015 for even more qual­ity con­trol. Em­ployee Luke Hol­land was in­spired to learn the milling process to be­come the com­pany’s head miller.

“I love it,” Hol­land said. “I get to be one of the few ar­ti­san millers in Colorado, us­ing this beau­ti­ful pinewood stone mill to make the best flours in town.”

The per­son en­trusted with one of the most im­por­tant jobs in the bak­ery is Ash­lee Brinker­hoff — or “Mrs. B,” as Cleary calls her. Brinker­hoff came to Grate­ful Bread as an in­tern from John­son & Wales Univer­sity’s bak­ing and pas­try arts pro­gram six years ago, and never left. She is one of the few who tends to the bak­ery’s nine large buck­ets of sour­dough starter, the source of the magic.

Bak­ers speak about their starters as liv­ing char­ac­ters with ex­act­ing tem­per­a­ments. They strive to keep them well-fed and warm, and they lis­ten to them, be­cause “the starter tells you when it’s happy.” Cleary said the smell of a starter changes through­out the year due to weather con­di­tions. “At its best, it smells like green ap­ples.”

Starter is a sim­ple mix of un­bleached flour and fil­tered warm wa­ter that has at­tracted wild yeast spores from the sur­round­ing atmosphere. The spores are mi­cro­scopic liv­ing or­gan­isms that feed on the mix, caus­ing it to fer­ment and, over time, with proper care and feed­ing it will even­tu­ally sour. Car­bon diox­ide bub­bles de­velop in the mix when the process is work­ing. At that point, a por­tion can be taken and added to more flour, wa­ter and salt to start a sour bread dough that will rise. With­out starter, you get flat bread.

Grate­ful Bread keeps two types of starter: a wet starter for milder prod­ucts and a firm one for stronger fla­vored breads.

Brinker­hoff metic­u­lously charts tem­per­a­tures to cal­cu­late the pre­cise for­mu­las needed to main­tain the starters’ op­ti­mal ra­tios. Us­ing large mix­ers, she cre­ates the dough for or­ders that will bake in three days, fol­low­ing a dis­ci­plined rou­tine of mix­ing, rest­ing, turn­ing and ul­ti­mately di­vid­ing the dough for bak­ers to shape by hand into hun­dreds of in­di­vid­ual pieces. Good Mix­ers like Mrs. B have solid math skills, strong fo­cus, en­durance and an artist’s touch.

Fin­ish­ing breads has be­come sec­ond na­ture for a.m. head baker John Ground­wa­ter, who gives each raw loaf a fi­nal dust­ing of flour and maybe a few quick dec­o­ra­tive slashes be­fore push­ing them into the deck oven. At just the right time and temp, he deftly slides them back out with a long han­dled wooden peel, mak­ing it look easy.

“It takes a lot of rep­e­ti­tion and prac­tice to get good at it,” Cleary said. “Bak­ing is a sci­ence. You ex­per­i­ment un­til you find the right bal­ance and then you stick to the for­mula.”

Sci­ence has yet to con­firm the claims of those who be­lieve sour­dough breads are as good as gluten-free for peo­ple with sen­si­tiv­i­ties to the pro­teins in wheat prod­ucts. Anec­do­tally, Mullen says nu­mer­ous cus­tomers have told her sour­doughs don’t bother them the way other breads do. Spec­u­la­tion cen­ters around sour­dough’s longer fer­men­ta­tion time, sug­gest­ing the process re­sults in a health­ier prod­uct.

“Sour­dough is an area of enor­mous con­tro­versy,” states the King Arthur Flour web­site, not only re­gard­ing its nu­tri­tional ben­e­fits but also in terms of the best tech­niques for mak­ing it. Amer­ica’s oldest flour com­pany has a hot­line for home bread-bak­ers, sour­dough ques­tions be­ing a top sub­ject they ad­dress daily at kingarthur­

Den­ver Well­ness and Nu­tri­tion Team di­eti­cian Jessica Cran­dall, RDN, ad­vises her gluten-sen­si­tive pa­tients to watch serv­ing size, and re­mem­ber ev­ery­one has a dif­fer­ent tol­er­ance level. “Low pro­cessed foods are great, fer­mented foods can be ben­e­fi­cial, but bread is still bread,” said Cran­dall, who be­lieves the oven likely kills what­ever good bac­te­ria ex­ists in sour­doughs. While she doesn’t view sour­dough as a health food, she per­son­ally loves it for the fla­vor. “It’s de­li­cious!”

Sour­dough has been around since bi­b­li­cal times, when it was just called bread. The lack of it has caused riots over the cen­turies, and in­spired poets like Neruda and Brown­ing and quotes from the likes of Julia Child, who Cleary had the priv­i­lege of cook­ing for in 1995. Child fa­mously asked, “How can a na­tion be called great if its bread tastes like kleenex?”

Grate­ful Bread seeks to an­swer that chal­lenge daily, train­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of bak­ers and millers in an an­cient prac­tice to make Amer­i­can bread great again.

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Baker John Ground­wa­ter takes fresh loaves out of the oven at the Grate­ful Bread Com­pany in Golden.

Head baker John Ground­wa­ter read­ies freshly made cia­batta bread dough into the oven at the Grate­ful Bread Com­pany. The fam­ily-owned, ar­ti­san bak­ery uses all nat­u­ral and or­ganic in­gre­di­ents, in­clud­ing milling its own flour with an Aus­trian stone flour mill. Pho­tos by He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Luke Hol­land pours rye into an Aus­trian flour mill to grind at The Grate­ful Bread Com­pany.

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