Flour Power: Phoenix Emerges as a New Capital of Artisan Bread-Making

Categories: Chow Bella

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Evie Carpenter
In a world of gluten-intolerance, is bread toast?
Since man first learned to harness the power of fire, humans have been using it to cook food. It started with an ostentatious show of roasting whole animals over an open flame -- an unabashed demonstration of how humans now possessed power over both nature and the rest of the animal kingdom.

As we developed increasingly complex cultures, we sought more sophisticated ways of using fire to make food.

We began to bake.

Unlike cooking meat over fire or boiling plants in a pot, baking constitutes a transformation of nature into an entirely new form, something good to eat -- bread. Ever since the advent of the art, baking has remained a fundamental skill in cultures around the world.

See also: Harvesting Native Arizona Wheat with Hayden Flour Mills

On a hot summer day in Phoenix, baker Claudio Urciuoli continues the tradition.

Dressed in a navy polo and flour­-covered light blue apron, the 44­-year-­old -- who was born in the Campania region of southern Italy and moved to Phoenix in 2006 -- squeezes and presses a ball of wet dough against a wooden table in a small commercial kitchen, his sinewy forearms flexing with the effort. These days, there are far less physically demanding ways to make bread, but Noble Bread, an artisan micro­-bakery, does things the old­-fashioned way.

These loaves, started at 9 a.m. from a starter begun more than 40 years ago, will see more than a day and a half of careful attention before they ever reach the inside of an oven.

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Lauren Saria
Urciuoli shapes a loaf of dough by hand.
Urciuoli isn't a masochist. He's a purist. During this day and a half, complex chemical reactions within the dough will develop structure and flavor that the baker says are impossible to accurately re­-create with chemicals and machinery.

"It's a very lengthy process you can't speed up," Urciuoli says in a thick Italian accent as he stretches and folds another lump of dough.

Not that industrial bakers don't try.

But each of the hundreds of loaves of bread Urciuoli and Noble Bread partner Jason Raducha, 30, make this week will be produced almost entirely by hand. The two bakers will touch each and every loaf, using the dough's texture to understand the proper adjustments to time and temperature, things that can't be understood by a machine.

Urciuoli worked as executive chef at top Valley restaurants and resorts before joining Noble Bread last year. He finds his new job much more rewarding. This process not only continues the legacy of the artisans before him, but also connects himself to his family's history. Flour is in his blood. He comes from a family of millers and remembers his father bringing home loaves of bread from bakers all over the Italian countryside.

Today, he and Raducha strive to bring that knowledge to the public while, at the same time, make a living. But in the face of a growing portion of the population that sees gluten -- and thus, wheat and bread -- as enemies of good health, it sometimes seems they're fighting a losing battle.

Amid the current trend of gluten intolerance, it seems impossible for health enthusiasts to have their bread and eat it, too. But the other side is gaining steam. The fissure between those who believe gluten is the root of all health evils and those fighting to restore bread to its rightful place on the food pyramid seems to grow wider with every passing meal.

"Now everyone is re-­interested," Urciuoli says matter of factly as he works another loaf. "But, you know, it's an ancient thing."


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8 comments
Hr Hamada
Hr Hamada

THANK YOU Chowbella, we were getting a bit worried about some of the recent articles. This article was was great!!!!!

naoma
naoma

you bet.  not crazy -- just excited about the world's best bread


sorry, won't happen again  because i write early in the am it is at times

hard to see the screen.

ExpertShot
ExpertShot topcommenter

Hate to break it to you but the first artisian bread company was in the 1980s in Chandler - It was formed out of a wonderful baker who worked out of the Gentle Strength Food Cooperative when it was on Fifth Street and at Earthen Joy, the restaurant next door. He got his flours from a mill somewhere and it was special grains, not your industrial stuff.

There are also mills in town that specialize in ANCIENT grains - like Mesquite Bean Flower - talk about flavor! 

I forgot the name of the company and the guy who started it, but we got to work at 4:30 am and worked until 1:00 pm every day - making wonderful loaves.

BTW - I have a VITA MIX blender which grinds wheat and I make my own bread at home for about 75 cents a loaf. 

Nice article but you might want to get your facts straight by reading back issues of New TImes - there were a number of articles written about that bakery when it started out.

carol344
carol344

Great article. Kudos to Noble, Hayden Mills, and all the others out there taking extra care so we can continue to enjoy bread guilt free.

naoma
naoma

OH< PLEASE.  PHOENIX a "bread capital?"  UNLESS you have eaten FRENCH BREAD you have not tasted BREAD.  We had a bread store in Phoenix years ago that WON THE BIGGEST PRIZE IN PARIS but they disappeared.  They were called SIMPLY BREAD and one day vanished.  I went to a  French bread store (LOCAL) recently that cropped up -- at 1 PM they had not "made any bread."  FORGET eating it here because no one but the FRENCH can make baguettes and unless you have not had a French genuine baguette -- you have not LIVED!!!!!  I go to Paris 3 months a year and eat a baguette a day and a FRENCH PASTRY (one of a kind product in Paris) and not eaten bread or pastry HERE since my return.  AND NOT GAINED AN OUNCE IN WEIGHT!!!!!

Alan M. Kafton
Alan M. Kafton

A very good article, and the author did a very good job with the interviewees....but there is one statement within that is misleading and ignores some facts. "Still, a loaf of Noble Bread costs $7, triple the price of a loaf of white Wonder Bread and double the price of a loaf from a grocery store bakery. And unlike Noble's product, which is available mainly at weekly farmers markers, you can buy those loaves of bread any day at almost any time." What is unintentionally misleading is that Noble Bread's $7 loaf weighs over 2 pounds (32--35 ounces). In comparison, many commercial loafs that may cost $3 to $4 (or more) weigh only 20--24 ounces. That makes Noble's hand-crafted, organic grains bread a much better purchase, and on much-closer footing to the $4 commercial loaf.

dogbiter
dogbiter

Learn to communicate without all the capital letters. Doing this makes you seem crazy. 

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