Bread diaries from Japan
In remote Totori, off a winding road surrounded by steep forested hillsides, is the TALMARY Bakery, started a decade ago by a couple, Itaru and Mariko. The story goes that Itsaru’s father gave him a book about Karl Marx when he was in his teens, the philosophy formed itself as a part of Itsaru’s constitution and consequently the bakehouse is founded on Marxist principles. In Japan, where hierarchies in the workplace are rigid, this is funky stuff.
I am familiar with bakeries that use wild yeast to leaven their bread, that are conscious of the role temperature and time play on flavour, digestibility and form, and I had been growing interested in the historical use of balm to rise bread with. If you didn’t know, balm is the frothy yeast on top of a batch of brewing beer. In the UK the majority of bakeries used balm to rise their dough, until imported yeast began to arrive from Germany in the early 19th Century.
It seems at Talmary, in a spirit of independence they decided to make their own balm, so along with bread, they brew beer. The brewhouse is in a separate room and is full of massive stainless steel vats, glasses kicking around for sampling, and two team members in smart wellies, connecting pipes to pipes or something. The beer they make is quite unique because they don’t use any commercial strains of yeast, rather they capture wild yeast strains allowing a kind of spontaneous fermentation. Despite this they produce a range of flavours, weiss beer, ipa, a stout which are on tap in the cafe. Perhaps now I should explain that they are in a converted school, with a big grass playground in front, the long building has ample space for the adventures going on within. There’s a small organic shop as you walk in, then a service area, and in another room a collection of comfy chairs, sofa’s and tables. There is a reclaimed vibe running through the place.
Back to the bread. Itsaru has another method for collecting yeast. A koji, usually used to make sake or miso paste, is cultured by hanging a bag of cooked rice in the forest for a couple of days allowing strains of yeast to colonise, it is then dried and stored.
Pretty cool. Three different sources of yeast, lots of strains of wild yeast. And then, slow fermentation, I watched retarded doughs being gently folded in oiled boxes before being returned to the fridge.
OK, next on the list of why this is an awesome bakery. Water, in selecting the location of the bakery water quality was in their mind, and the water they use is fresh from the hills. Big tick.
Finally, flour. They have a roller mill running in an annexe of the building. It’s a fun space narrow and extremely tall, say 4 metres. Grain is loaded up to the top and is ground most days to give fresh flour for the dough. They mill about 20% of their flour on site and the rest is organically certified flour. I’m not sure of the origin but they clearly are conscious of sourcing reflected in projects to grow hops and barley in their area, and wild boar burgers on the cafe menu.
In line with staying mellow and not working too much, Talmary is open for bread Friday to Monday inclusive. We could only visit on a Thursday, so I can only imagine how good the bread tastes. The place was never the less busy with brewers, the bakers preparing the dough, and some of the cafe team cruising around. All in all good vibes abounded. In a country where bread isn’t commonplace it’s encouraging to see people making it in such an exceptional way. Bread is becoming a staple breakfast item for young Japanese, and the type of bread they are eating is a kind of faux brioche, pre sliced and wrapped. I applaud these guys for taking it to the roots and offering something with integrity. Given the way the Japanese think about food it shouldn’t be long before this kind of bread really catches on.
Ben Mackinnon, e5 Founder.