Greg Wade of Publican Quality Bread is one of the most notable bread bakers in the country, having won the James Beard Foundation Award in 2019 for Outstanding Baker. The Chicago-based baker is using his bread expertise to help develop sandwich breads for another Chicago company, Farmer’s Fridge.
The company, which provides fresh, wholesome, hand-crafted salads, snacks and other foods, packed into well-designed, recyclable jars, is putting sandwiches in 40 vending machine locations around Chicago, as well as fridges in Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey.
A few years ago, Farmer’s Fridge hoped to expand into other categories beyond salads while maintaining its quality and high standards for whole ingredients. The issue was finding quality bread that isn’t pumped full of artificial leaveners, preservatives and other ingredients. Greg Wade’s natural, long-fermentation approach to bread-making at Publican Quality Bread was the answer.
“They had reached out when they were expanding. They didn’t want sub-par bread going into their sandwiches in their machines,” Wade says. “When somebody reaches out, we invite them in for a tasting, we talk about the sourcing of our ingredients and how we ferment our dough. We show them the bakery and the process. It just kept growing from there.”
Wade bakes his bread using only high-quality, ethically sourced ingredients from Spence Farm, a biodynamic farm outside of Chicago. Using a natural sourdough starter containing wild yeasts and body-friendly bacteria, his bread is fermented for up to 60 hours. The hydrated dough breaks down the nutrient-blockers typically found in grains such as wheat, allowing the body to fully absorb all of the vitamins and minerals the bread has to offer such as potassium, phosphate, magnesium and zinc.
For Farmer’s Fridge, Wade offered PQB’s Seeded Rye Boule and created the Multigrain Sourdough Pullman – two nutrient and flavor-packed loaves. The breads will be featured in Farmer’s Fridge’s Smoked Turkey & Cheddar Sandwich (featuring Ferndale Farms Market smoked turkey breast, white cheddar cheese, housemade dijonnaise created with Sir Kensington’s mayo + mustard and fresh arugula on the Seeded Rye Boule) and its Chipotle Turkey Sandwich (Ferndale Farms Market smoked turkey breast, white cheddar cheese, housemade chipotle mayo created with Sir Kensington’s mayo, roasted red bell peppers and fresh green leaf lettuce on the Multigrain Sourdough Pullman).
When creating the Pullman, Wade was given some parameters to work with for a soft sandwich bread – making sure that it’s dairy-free, that it included some seeds and whole grains, and that it featured local honey. Wade had his own criteria, including doing partial sourdough fermentation on it for flavor and health benefits, without making it too sour.
“It was kind of a process between trying to hit their guidelines and making it look and taste like something that comes out of this bakery, and uphold the mission of both entities,” Wade says.
The sandwiches are made fresh in Chicago and then sold in more than 400 fridges in six cities across the U.S., as well as Farmer’s Fridge’s Chicago brick-and-mortar location – The Farmstand – at Revival Food Hall.
High-quality, ethically-sourced ingredients are of utmost importance for Publican Quality Bread. The bakery works with local farmers such as Marty and Bill Travis of Spence Farm. They grow grains specifically for the bakery, where the varieties work well on the farm and are flavor-forward instead of being selected just for yield.
The artisan grain collaborative
Publican Quality Bread is a founding member of the Artisan Grain Collaborative in Chicago, a group whose reach has now spread to most of the Midwest. It is a group of farmers, bakers, millers, plant breeders and university extensions all working together to create a stronger regional grain system.
The Artisan Grain Collaborative is constantly testing new varieties over different soil types and climate conditions, performing bake and flavor tests among other programs with the end goal of more grain being grown and used in all culinary and even beverage applications.
“By working together with everyone in the grain value chain, we are able to overcome a lot of hurdles that most of us wouldn’t be able to accomplish working alone,” Wade says.
With the coronavirus pandemic greatly affecting communities and their economies, the AGC launched a program to highlight the importance of regional food systems and to support area farmers, millers, bakers and eaters.
The Neighbor Loaves program asks consumers to purchase Neighbor Loaves from participating bakeries. Bakers source grain from local sustainable farms and bake Neighbor Loaves which contain at least 50% locally grown stone-milled flour. Neighbor Loaves are then distributed to community feeding organizations to support people in need.
The initiative secures the local grain chain during the pandemic. Farmers are currently planting grain and need to know they’ll have a place to sell this year’s crop. Local mills need to keep busy grinding last year’s grain, while bakers are facing reduced revenue in this new environment.
Some of the bakeries participating in the Neighbor Loaves program that consumers can purchase bread loaves from include:
- Baker’s Field Flour & Bread – Minneapolis
- Hewn – Evanston, Ill.
- Lost Larson – Chicago
- Madison Sourdough – Madison, Wis.
- Muddy Fork Farm & Bakery – Bloomington, Ind.
- ORIGIN Breads – Madison
- Kickapoo Cafe – Viroqua, Wis.
- Perennial Bakers – Oak Park, Ill.
- River Rock Kitchen & Baking Co. – St. Peter, Minn.
- Three Twigs Bakery – Springfield, Ill.
Bakers who want to begin producing Neighbor Loaves can find more information at http://graincollaborative.com/. The website also features a list of resources to find local grain and flour in the Upper Midwest and throughout the country.