By Calie Brummer
On Saturday and Sunday, April 13–14, the annual Asheville Bread Festival will celebrate 15 years of learning and camaraderie among bakers, bread connoisseurs and those interested in the breadmaking process. The theme of this year’s festival is A Celebration of Natural Leavening, and in tandem with the festival’s 15th anniversary is a concerted effort to be more representative of the people working in the industry, namely women. For the first time, the festival’s headliner will be a woman: Sarah Owens, author of the James Beard award-winning book, Sourdough.
One of the festival’s main events, the bread fair, will be held at New Belgium Brewery on Saturday, April 14, from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Local and regional artisan bakeries will sample and sell breads and pastries and area mills will sell flour. There will also be a rich assortment of baking and culinary books available for sale. In addition to the bread fair, several hands-on workshops and lectures by guest artisan bakers will take place in locations around Asheville from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“It is incredible to see the swelling interests in natural leavening, that is, leavening one’s bread without commercial baking yeast,” says Jennifer Lapidus, founder of Carolina Ground Flour Mill.
Lapidus says that classes “will not only cover baking with natural leavening (sourdough) but will also feature insights from Dr. Erin McKenney from the Rob Dunn Lab at North Carolina State University’s Sourdough Project, who will provide fascinating details and discoveries into the origin of our sourdough cultures. There are only two projects like this in the world—one in Brussels and the other right here in North Carolina.”
Pre-festival activities begin Friday, April 12, with a tour of the Bread Wheat Trial plots led by Dr. David Marshall, a USDA-ARS wheat breeder. Other presenters include Tara Jensen, owner of Smoke Signals Bakery and author of A Baker’s Year; Sharon Burns- Leader of Bread Alone Bakery; Maia Surdam of OWL Bakery; and Kaley Laird of Rhubarb and Rhu Bakery.
The festival culminates with a six-hour master class on Sunday, April 14, led by Owens and Burns-Leader. The class offers intensive instruction and discussion with a workshop themed Natural Leavening and Sourdough.
Additional classes will provide tips on ways to use leftover leavening, baking with heritage grains and many more topics. Lapidus will co-host a talk with Amy Halloran, author of The New Bread Basket: How the New Crop of Grain Growers, Plant Breeders, Millers, Masters, Bakers, Brewers, and Local Food Activists Are Redefining Our Daily Loaf at Carolina Ground.
“I’m really excited about coming to Asheville again because this festival celebrates bread at so many levels and allows people to enter into the evolving world of fresh flour and handmade bread,” says Halloran. “People can taste the great stuff at the bread festival, or bring home a bag of new flour. Sourdough beginners can make tortillas and English muffins with myself and author/baker Sarah Black, who will be teaching people how to make a starter from scratch.”
This year’s bread festival offers countless opportunities for guests to learn and experience the art of breadmaking. “As someone who has been to grain events around the country, I can say that this one has a really unique power in the many invitations it extends to eaters, beginning bakers, the bread curious, serious home bakers and professionals,” adds Halloran. “All are welcome. This is a special bread gathering.”
New Belgium Brewing Company is located at 21 Craven Street. For more information, visit AshevilleBreadFestival.com.