The Art in Food - Dogwood Bread Company
By Nicole Navarro
Photography by Tim Behuniak
Spring in the North Country has flavor at Dogwood Bread Company in Wadhams, New York. Owner Keri Fair is committed to using as much locally-produced food as she can get her hands on, despite seasonal challenges. Surprisingly, she’s never had to round out her plates with molded sides of snow.
Whether preserved from the fall harvest or just sprouting up in nearby greenhouses, mud season in the Adirondacks has its own signature bounty. Meats, cheeses, maple, sweet potatoes, spinach, pea shoots, and other homegrown delights are anchored by Dogwood’s artisanal breads baked in a wood-fired oven.
Customers enjoy hearty offerings of baguettes, bagels, assorted loaves, sandwiches, and more. Friday nights welcome a steady stream of eclectic locals who turn out for dreamy pizzas with crust that’s textured like a warm, chewy cloud.
Fair relocated her family to Wadhams from Virginia in 2008: “The reason we moved up here was a quality of life thing. We wanted more of a sense of community than was happening in Virginia,” said Fair. “Where we grew up in Virginia was great, but it was rapidly changing. My parents are from up this way and that’s how we ended up in Wadhams.”
The forever wild haven of the Adirondacks inspired the purchase of her business as well as the cultivation of her craft. Without prior baking experience outside of her home kitchen, Fair had a steep learning curve and used trial and error on top of a decade of baking practice to undoubtedly earn her stripes. Her dedication to the craft is palpable.
Wood-fired-baking is labor intensive. Every part of the process has multiple steps requiring days of advanced preparation. Stockpiles of slab wood are brought in from Keeseville and stacked by crane in mounds as high as the bakery itself. The fire is started at least three days before first bake. After about four hours, the flame burns out and the oven is closed.
As heat sinks into the oven’s masonry, six temperature readings are taken over the next 72 hours to ensure the oven is ready when it comes time to. The temperature history log allows Fair to predict the oven’s exact temperature within one or two degrees.
All breads are sourdough based and have a long fermentation process. This adds the type of dimension to the crust and the crumb that the style is known for. The crust becomes hard and chewy, and the crumb (the name for air pockets in the bread) are irregular, chewy, and spectacularly sheened. During the long resting period, the dough is busy strengthening its gluten, explains Fair. Over the course of days, it builds those shiny fiber connections that make a slice of sourdough look as interesting as a stained-glass window.
Fair runs her business with help from her sister, Jennifer Newberry, who welcomes customers when taking orders at the counter. The atmosphere feels like a lively home, complete with couches and a hearth. You happily set and bus your own table and help yourself to water that comes from a spigot in the wall.
The warmth of the ovens at Dogwood Bread Company are as constant as the building they are housed in, a community staple in Wadhams since the 1830s. The marbled pizzas resemble its face: red brick with fading whitewash. Fifty-pound sacks of flour and oats sit on pallets beneath an old Agway sign in the dining room - a nod to one of the building’s past lives as a feed store.
Kitchen banter leads to quirky names for menu items keeping things entertaining for the staff. The names may have political undertones or be inspired by inside jokes, but never have anything to do with ingredients. The ingredients speak for themselves. “You can taste that some care and thought went into each recipe, ingredient choice, and the way it is displayed. We do things in smaller batches and taste each one,” said Fair. “Even though you get the carrots from the same farm, each batch might have a different level of sweetness.”
Working closely with Juniper Hill and Tangleroot farms is how Fair meets her goal of serving quality food with fresh ingredients. She even sources her maple from a bakery employee. These are the connections that manifest a fresh salad while it’s still spitting snow.
Spinach, radish, and pea shoots make up the greens. Perfectly slivered carrots, radishes, and beets follow. Feta cheese, seeds, and a maple balsamic vinaigrette finish the dish. Each ingredient blends with the other in harmonious proportion.
Its taste is earthy - like the slowly warming soil - dotted with just enough sweetness to provoke memories of warmer days. Soon we will shelter beneath tall pines and gaze upon the hypnotizing ripples of forgotten lakes. Meadows will buzz again, the bullfrogs will start croaking, and the lightning will strike. Maybe we aren’t being punished with eternal winter after all.
We are reminded that even though it snows in May, life has never left this unforgiving landscape. The ovens are always glowing in Wadhams, and the food at Dogwood Bread Company tastes like home.
For more information about the Dogwood Bread Company, visit their Facebook page.