It all begins with a natural starter.
Wild yeasts in the air are allowed to feed on a mixture of flour, water and catalysts such as mashed bananas, raisins or Concord grapes. For two weeks, the mixture is fed a steady diet of breakfast, lunch and dinner, allowing it to ferment and multiply. Eventually, it becomes the bubbly, pleasantly sour-smelling natural starter called the "chef."
And yet that's only the start of making artisan breads.
Over two days, the dough will be mixed, hand-shaped and signed, before being left to rise in rye-dusted wicker baskets in cool, dark rooms. Only after this "long-slow-cool" rise are the loaves ready to be baked in steam-injected, stone-deck Bongard ovens. Once they are cooled and packed, they are delivered immediately to Metropolitan shops and Philly's best restaurants.
It’s a painstaking process that requires patience. But the reward are loaves with the rich, crackling, mahogany crusts and nutty, intensely fragrant interiors that are the hallmarks of old world bread. (Not to mention a superior shelf-life to commercially mass-produced bread, thanks to natural preservatives in the starter.)