Last week I attended the Kneading Conference West. It’s only in its second year, but it builds upon the concept and experiences of the original Kneading Conference that’s been running in Maine since 2007. It brought together a diverse set of participants including professional and home bakers, farmers, millers, brewers, and oven builders. Participants came from all over the PNW and from as far away as the east coast and even Scotland. Sessions ran the gamut from hands on workshops to scientific presentations.
I had a great time there, not least because it was located at the WSU Mt Vernon Research Center, home of the Fruit Tree Research facility and a beautiful orchard of heirloom fruit trees. It was very inspiring and I expect I will soon need to start soliciting neighbors to take some of the bread that I plan to bake.
Some of the things that stood out for me:
- Andrew Whitley’s very articulate and impassioned championing of “real bread” and a community-oriented baking culture.
- Mark Doxtader’s session on bagels in a wood-fired oven – not because I’m a big fan of bagels, but because of the wealth of information he shared about wood-fired oven baking and the realities and challenges of a small-scale bakery
- Dawn Woodward on baking crackers – it’s so easy and offers a lot of room for creativity in terms of grains and flavors. Dawn’s remarks on production efficiency and margins were also very interesting.
- A panel discussion on the business of baking, featuring owners of 4 very different types of bakeries – from the startup artisanal to the established 10,000 loaves a week operation.
- A tour of the facility’s collection of modern and historic grains – it encouraged me to consider growing some grains in our own garden
- A tour of the Breadfarm bakery in the quaint town of Edison, WA – it’s tiny but turns out an impressive array of breads and pastries of exceptional quality
Here are some photos from the event.