Bring that cheese
“Is there such thing as a bad cheese loaf?” This is a rhetorical question that Fred Spompinato, owner of Fervere Hand Crafted Bread in Kansas City. MO, asks. The correct answer is no. “It’s an easy one to win the hearts of people with.”
Many bread bakers consider it a science, and it is. But maybe really good cheesy bread transcends the science of baking. “I think you need to keep the science out of it,” Spompinato says. “I don’t think there’s any science about it. I think it’s all flavor, flavor, flavor.” While there are technical aspects that a baker needs to be aware of, getting the flavor to work remains the most important.
One thing that that bakers need to remember when baking bread with cheese is to use parchment paper. Otherwise, it will cause a mess. “No matter what kind of cheese bread, the cheese starts seeping and leaking and it will stick to your baking surface,” Spompinato says. “We bake on the hearth, so we can’t have a sticky, gooey hearth, so anything with cheese gets baked on parchment paper.”
Pricing presents another consideration. Quality artisan bread deserves quality artisan cheese, but a bakery could easily eliminate its profit margin by using cheese that’s too expensive. A $20 a lb cheese would probably price itself too high to sell. “To be honest at $20 a lb, you probably just want to eat the cheese,” Spompinato says. “There are just so many good cheeses and it’s not hard to come in at $4 a lb. We run the gamut now around $5 to $8 a lb.”
All cheeses have different characteristics and melt at different temperatures. Bakers must play with things a little to get the process customized for the cheese they use and the bread that they bake. And as mentioned before, it’s always about flavor. Spompinato loved the idea of having a smoked cheese in Fervere’s regular cheese slipper and found a smoked cheddar that he liked, but that was not the end of it.
“The problem was that the flavor was too smoky if we put the amount of cheese we wanted in,” he says. “So we found another cheddar that was pretty neutral and cut that cheddar in with equal parts. Inside the dough there are two kinds of cheddar.”
Once divided and sitting on the parchment, the dough receives shredded cheddar and garlic curds to top it off. Half of the cheese slippers then get topped with gorgonzola.
The Saturday Night Cheese Slipper
Fervere’s cheese slipper did well and the bakery had plenty of regular orders for the loaf. In fact, the cheese slipper did so well that people began to come in to get them on bake night. “There were a few people that the bakers knew personally, that knew when our regular cheese slippers were coming out of the oven,” Spompinato says. “And that’s a whole different experience, having one fresh out of the oven.”
With folks coming in on bake night to get fresh cheese slippers, it became an issue for the customer orders being baked to go out the next day. “With people coming in at night, they were sort of short circuiting what was left for the customers,” Spompinato says. Consequently, the Saturday Night Cheese Slipper was born. Saturday nights during the summer, when fresh produce is available at the farmer’s market, Fervere reopens at 6:00 p.m. for a fresh cheese slipper.
“That’s been a tremendous hit, a really spectacular hit,” Spompinato says. “We use different cheeses than we normally use. We don’t even put out our regular cheese slipper for Saturday Night Cheese Slipper.” The concept is the same, cheese mixed into and topping the dough before baking, but the flavor profile for the Saturday Night Cheese Slipper changes continuously based on what the farmer’s market has to offer.
“The other thing about the Saturday Night that’s really important is that it’s coming fresh out of the oven,” Spompinato says. “We decided that 15 minutes would be the longest possible on the shelf. If they go beyond 15 minutes they get cut up and sampled. But generally, they fly out of the door before they even hit the shelves.”