After selling at farmer’s markets in Ann Arbor for several years, we opened the Mother Loaf Breads shop at 508 County St. in Milan in 2015. The “We” in reference here are Jeremiah and Stephanie. We were excited to find an opportunity in a small corner of Milan now called EdgeTown, in a burgeoning community of small, independent businesses that include Milan Coffee Works and Original Gravity Brewery. The Mother Loaf specializes in naturally leavened breads, or sourdoughs, as well as not-so-sweet treats.
The Mother Loaf History
“I’ve been thinking about bread.”
So said Jeremiah nearly seven years ago. As a chef for two decades, he was tired of the hell fire of the nightly grind. However, bread, particularly sourdough, had piqued his interest. It was a return to his roots. When Jeremiah was young and wild, his mom (Mama Susan) would take him with her to bake overnights. He would tire himself out running through the kitchen then fall asleep near the warm ovens in his sleeping bag. Mama Susan supported them by baking and working for fancypants food companies (and a whole litany of other jobs worth asking her about…) in Connecticut and New York City. How else would she know what Sylvester Stallone’s bathroom looked like? (All black marble, every surface – it was the 80s.)
So, he started to bake. Initially it was for the restaurant he was cooking for. Shortly thereafter, we ventured out on our own and started The Mother Loaf Breads as a CSB – Community Supported Bakery — like a CSA with shares, but with bread instead of vegetables. Demand grew quickly. We looked for commercial kitchens to bake out of and were a traveling band of bread nomads for a bit. We found a community of people who appreciated good food and good company, who understand the value in making food that nourishes not just the body but also the person.
“Smell this,” the baker said, breaking open a dark loaf. “It’s a heavy bread, but rich.” They smelled it then he had them taste it. It had the taste of molasses and coarse grains. They listened to him. They ate what they could. They swallowed the dark bread. It was like daylight under the fluorescent trays of light. They talked on into the early morning, the high, pale cast of light in the windows, and they did not think of leaving.” – Raymond Carver, A Small, Good Thing
Why the Sourdough?
Jeremiah chose to bake only with sourdough because it’s all natural, it’s the old way of doing bread (a dying art which has since enjoyed a renaissance of sorts), it’s better for you — and it’s the most challenging thing he’s ever done. Sourdough is a fickle beast. We mean literal beast, or more accurately beasts. The yeasts that rain down into the sourdough starter (from the air and the surface of the flour) are actually living things that combine with the flour and water to create a little glutenous snowglobe of life. Feed it and watch it excitedly burble to life, the surface rumbling with gas bubbles that explode and release a smell remarkably like beer (it’s fermented!). The sour flavor of sourdough actually comes from little bacterial friends that grow alongside the wild yeasts in the mother starters, the yeasts that feed on the sugars that the enzymes break down. They all have a job to do.
We do what is called a long, slow, cold ferment with our bread, which means it takes 2-3 days to perform all of the steps: feeding, mixing, shaping, proofing and baking. That’s a giant investment in time and care. Since it’s just Jeremiah as the baker and Stephanie as the up front, it’s definitely a labor of love.
What We Make
We make a large variety of staple sourdoughs, like salt-crusted rye, levain (country white) and multigrain. We also do specialty loaves like chocolate-espresso rye, brioche and much more. Each day we’re open we have a different soup and some other take-to-eat things like our version of focaccia. As mentioned elsewhere, our sourdoughs are relatively mild in the tang department. Some are more cheeky than others, so even if you don’t like a tart bread or you can’t get enough of that pucker, we may have a bread for you. You can skip on over to the Our Breads page to learn more.