Philly Bread

Revolutionary Bread from a Revolutionary City

Milling Our Way To Better Bread

At Philly Bread, we obsess over every step of the production process. From sourcing grains to packaging the final loaf, every detail affects the final product. One of the most important steps in our process is milling locally grown grains using a 12” stone mill from Meadows Mills. Why mill grains into flour at the bakery when you can purchase it? Creative control.

Consider the benefits of buying whole coffee beans and grinding them to order. What respectable coffee shop uses coffee ground off-site? Baristas need a degree of control to make the perfect cup. Some brews are made with finely ground light roasts while others use dark roasts and coarse grounds. Grinding to order also matters because once a bean gets crushed, the natural oils inside the bean can go rancid. Therefore, freshly ground beans are critical to a great cup.

Just as beans and grinders are necessary for artisan coffee, grains and mills are vital to artisan bread production. By milling in-house, vendors can't limit our options, and freshness is guaranteed. By sourcing whole grains instead of potentially stale flour, we have the ability to toast or smoke them before milling so that our flour has a more complex flavor. Without a mill, new flavors are out of reach. Additionally, milling to order allows us to reduce the risk of baking with rancid flour and thereby improve flavor and nutrition. Whole grains have naturally long shelf lives, but once it becomes flour, it oxidizes and spoils. Industrial mills remove the “germ” of the grain to avoid this, and this step reduces the nutrition.  

Milling grains starts with, well, grain selection. We use a variety, some of which include “Redeemer” winter wheat (used in our signature Philly Muffin), rye, and corn. Most of our grains come from Castle Valley Mill, located nearby in the heart of Bucks County, PA. We also utilize local barley malts from Philly Homebrew Outlet.

The Meadows Mill that turns our local whole grains into flour is a simple technology. Grains enter the machine through a hopper (a cone-like catchment that tapers downward). Next, they flow through two stone wheels: one remains static while the other revolves to grind the grain. The space between those two wheels is what determines whether the grain is milled fine or course and what the flour temperature is. After passing through the stones, flour shoots out of the machine at about 100 lbs/hour.

We utilize our in-house milled grains in many of our products including all varieties of our Philly Muffins, ciabatta, focaccia, baguettes, table loaves, multigrain and rye bread. Check here to find a place near you serving us up.

Baker of the Month: Peter Merzbacher

Meet Peter Merzbacher: founder, owner, and head baker here at Philly Bread. He is at the forefront of a bold movement in New American Bread, a fresh take on baking that doesn’t just copy the best of Italian and French bread, but one that creates an approachable, inventive loaf that reflects the region in which it was created, right here in the United States.

Pete started pursuing a career in food early on, inspired by the approach that he took towards his education. “I designed my degree in college, so I learned how to identify a learning objective and work backward to achieve that,” Pete shares. “So I did the same with food. It was a self-designed learning adventure.” He started to spend time at farms, restaurants, and commissaries soaking up all the knowledge he could. He learned how to prepare many dishes and improve his culinary skills before he fatefully stumbled upon bread. His first loaf was based off a recipe from Tartine, a famous bakery in San Francisco, in December 2012. What started as a way to learn a new culinary skill quickly developed into a love affair.

He then began working out of his house and kitchens around the city to create his unique bread. He delivered his loaves via a bicycle trailer to friends and local businesses including Mariposa Food Co-op and Greensgrow Farms (still current Philly Bread customers). Eventually business got big enough that he moved into his current bakery in 2013 in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia. Business continued to grow to the point that there is now a small staff of fourteen that help the bakery run, doing everything from sales to mixing and baking to packaging to marketing.

The care and attention put into everything Philly Bread produces helped expand Pete's business. Using local grains that are milled in-house, natural fermentation techniques and more, a truly unique loaf of bread has been created. “It’s like coffee. You can’t just get a sack of coffee beans and call it a day. Everything from where those beans grow, to the roasting process, to preparing it for the customers are essential steps to give care and attention. That’s the same idea here. We want to have involvement in every aspect of the process and continuously make the freshest, best product we can put out there.” Pete is motivated to invest time, and attention to his approach to baking bread by questions like, “How much flavor can you pull from grain?” By continually asking questions, you’re continuously solving and improving. And that’s where you get unique products like that Philly Muffin.

Philly Bread’s signature product is an example of when experimentation and improvement make something great and original. Pete realized that there hadn’t been any improvements on the traditional English muffin in, well, ages. So with a bit of ingenuity and “accidental brilliance,” the Philly Muffin was born. The Muffin has a unique square shape with excellent flavor and texture and it provides a sturdy base on which to build a sandwich (and the air pockets give it the traditional look and feel of an English muffin). What makes it even more special is that it comes in many varietes including Original, Everything, Cinnamon Raisin, and house-milled Heirloom Wheat. Today the muffin is Philly Bread’s best-selling product and gives them a leg up on the competition with an offering that customers actually can’t find anywhere else.

Stay tuned here on Philly Bread’s blog for more in-depth looks at our process, the importance of milling our grain in-house, our all-star bakers, and more.