BERKSHIRE MOUNTAIN BAKERY
Richard Bourdon bakes bread in his Berkshire Mountain Bakery (Housatonic, MA), which recently won distinction in Bon Appetit magazine as one of the top 10 best bread bakeries in America. INTERVIEW: "I grew up in a large family, a family of 10, and, food brought us together. My mother, I guess she had a very discerning palate, she never spared anything and she made everything. I don’t think I ever ate a commercial cookie, it was always something she made … jellies, jams. And, it always brought the family together. She made her own bread as well, and that’s kind of where I got interested in baking. This focus has led me to 30 years of baking."
"A baker is basically an orchestrator … I orchestrate. And, just like anything, depending on how you feed something, schedule, concentrations and temperatures will affect how it will react. And my job is to just keep an eye on the process."
"You need enough water, in the pot, you need enough fire and you need enough time. Water, fire and time. If you miss any of those three, the cooking or the gelling won’t take place. So, with bread, it’s a thought-out food, where first the grain has been chewed for you by the grinding stone. Then you have fermentation, to break the food down. Basically, bacteria eat, and while they eat they release gas. That gas is then trapped in this web of protein or gluten, which makes that expand. And then when you put it in the oven, the heat makes it set. And, that’s where the most important ingredient is – to have enough water to allow the starch to gel. Your piece of bread is cooked in the oven in its shell, in its self-contained pot. The water evaporates, the starches gel, it cooks, and then when you take it out it actually keeps well. So all in all, bread is a very well thought out way of processing food."
"I use sourdough because, if you want to mine or extract nutrients out of grain, you let it sour. I was in Africa, there they make Kenkey. Kenkey is corn, maize that’s been soaked, soured, then ground up, and then soured some more, and then cooked. But, the souring of the grain has been done by indigenous people. If you go to Ethiopia, they’ll have Ingera, it’s a flat bread like a pancake cooked on one side, it’s a batter, and it’s very very tart. And then, when we use this very tart bread with your food – it goes well together."
"I’m still looking to make a model that would be sustainable. And, I guess the latest strategy is that we would work towards designing our bakery so it can be kind of a retail destination – breads, pizzas, all baked goods. And the time is right, consumers want to know where their product comes from, they want to know who makes it. And, to be able to talk with someone, it’s interesting."
Richard has recently built an addition on the front of the bakery, where he sells his breads and where you can compose your own pizza to bring home and cook. Berkshire Mountain Bakery distributes to Guido’s and the Co-op in Great Barrington, and his bread is used at Baba Louie’s restaurants (Hudson, NY, Great Barrington and Pittsfield, MA) for the pizza dough.