I first met David Tannen, self-proclaimed chief cook and bottle-washer of Twin Forks Farm Artisan Breads, a couple of years ago when I was picking up my weekly CSA veggie haul from Fresh Harvest Coop. Tannen doesn't remember meeting me, but I'll never forget the heft of the loaf I purchased from him. He had recently constructed a small beehive oven in his backyard in Primm Springs, Tenn., and he was firing up loaves of old-world bread--four at a time--like little whole-grain cannon balls.
I recently had occasion to try Tannen's bread again, and what a difference two years makes. While Twin Forks loaves still weigh in at a pound-and-a-half, the texture has migrated from dry and leaden to moist and meaty, and the flavor is a hearty harmony of sweet, sour and faintly bitter.
Tannen, a former traveling salesman of whole-food products, says he learned a lot about time and temperature in the last couple of years. He learned to keep his sourdough starter at a constant 80 degrees, and he developed a feel for when rising dough is just right for baking. ("That's where all the artisan stuff comes in," he says.)
Along the way, he also developed a following for his bread out Primm Springs way, so he built a bigger oven and can now bake up to 175 loaves a day.
Of course, it's hard to finish a phone conversation with the affable and enthusiastic Tannen, because every few minutes he has to mix in some more flour or move some dough into the cooler or out of the oven. When he can break for a minute, Tannen overflows with facts about yeast, bacteria, fermentation--not to mention the laborious description of building a fire to 1,000 degrees, letting it cool over night, cleaning out the coals and mopping the inside of the oven to sterilize it before setting in the first batch of dough. The first bake of the day cooks for about half-an-hour, but as the day goes on and the oven temperature drops, the cooking time extends to 75 minutes.
It sounds like an exhausting process, and if you had asked me two years ago if it was worth it, I wouldn't have been so sure. But the bread Tannen is churning out now is remarkable. I sliced the raisin loaf as thin as possible, warmed it in the toaster and slathered butter across it. Riddled with plump sweet raisins, the dense bread soaked up the melted butter like a sponge, and each chewy bite was a balanced blend of sweet and sour, sharing nothing in common with mass-produced raisin loaf beyond a quiet empathy.
When I told Tannen I smeared Jif across the Bohemian Three Seed, I think I heard him gasp in horror. It may be blasphemy to thusly pollute artisan bread, but the whole wheat slice--pocked with sunflower, flax and sesame seeds--made one of the best open-face PB&Js I have ever had.
Starting next week, Tannen's bread will be available at Lazzaroli Pasta in Germantown and at The Produce Place on Murphy Road. On Wednesday, March 11, Tannen will be at The Produce Place offering samples and coupons for $1 off the $4.99 loaves. Twin Forks Farm Artisan Breads will also be available this spring at the farmers' markets downtown and in Franklin and through Fresh Harvest Coop.