The origin of Origin Breads in Madison
Kirk Smock makes naturally leavened breads
Self-taught bread maker Kirk Smock knew when he started his business that he wanted a name that reflected where the ingredients for his naturally leavened breads come from.
“I was kicking around names and I really wanted people to think about bread, grains and what they are eating,” Smock says. “A friend suggested ‘origin,’ and it fit.”
Focusing on long-fermented sourdough breads made with wild yeast and local grains, Smock launched Origin Breads in October 2016, but the seeds for Origin were sown long before.
Smock met his wife Kathryn Boryc Smock in Madison in the early 2000s. The couple moved to Guyana, located in South America, in 2005 for Kathryn’s public health fellowship and where Kirk pursued a career in freelance writing. Unable to find decent bread, Kathryn made it at home and then taught Kirk how to do it. “She was like, ‘You are working from home mostly, I’ll teach you how to make the bread,'” Kirk says. Soon Kirk found himself avoiding writing to read bread blogs and watch bread shaping videos. “I’m sure the bread wasn’t that good, but I loved the process of it,” Kirk says. “It became something I could do while I was writing because it would get me out of my chair to go and mess with the dough for awhile.”
In 2007 the Smocks moved to New York City where Kirk says he had “a crazy loaf” of sourdough bread at a place called Scratch Bread in Brooklyn. The owner would use pizza places’ ovens at night to bake his breads. “The bread was charred and full of flavor,” Kirk says. “I thought, ‘I need to learn how to do this.'”
Kirk was about to start an apprenticeship at Scratch Bread when the Smocks left New York City for Baltimore, Maryland, but the idea of focusing on sourdough breads stuck with him. Another move took the couple to Mozambique in Africa before the Smocks, now with two sons, moved back to Madison in 2016 and Kirk started looking into opening a bakery. He found a space in Christine’s Kitchens, a commercial kitchen on East Washington Avenue, where Kirk would have his own area to let his sourdough loaves sit out to ferment.
Kirk knew he wanted to use all local grains for his bread. While doing research, he read about Lonesome Stone Milling, a stone mill located in Lone Rock, where he now sources all of his grains — which are from Meadowlark Organics in Ridgeway — milled fresh to order.
Kirk wasn’t exactly sure how to get his bread business started, but then a consultant from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business told him to start with wholesale and get his bread into stores. “She told me to bake some loaves, walk in and ask for [the] manager. [She told me that] any meeting you go to, bring bread,” Kirk says. Soon, loaves of Kirk’s bread could be found on the shelves of the Jenifer Street Market, the Regent Market Co-op and Fresh Market. “I slowly figured it out,” he says.
Over time, Kirk made new connections and learned where his breads were a good fit. Loaves of Origin Breads can now be found at all three Willy Street Co-ops, Metcalfe’s Market at Hilldale, Regent Market Co-op, the Eastside Farmers’ Market on Tuesday afternoons and the Hilldale Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. Kirk also makes demi baguettes, sandwich bread and dinner bread for Underground Butcher and Forequarter.
All Origin Bread loaves are hand-mixed and take 36 hours to make from beginning to end. Kirk makes three core loaves — the Original, made with whole grain wheat and whole grain rye; the Driftless with 100 percent whole grain wheat; and the Classic, a country style loaf with whole wheat. Each loaf is decorated with a different stencil design and a sprinkling of flour which Kirk says is fun to do and helps him identify the loaves. Kirk also makes loaves of focaccia with ingredients including peppadew peppers and goat cheese, which can be found at the farmers’ markets (get there early, as these items almost always sell out.)
Kirk dreams of a “proper bread oven” and possibly his own storefront someday. But for now, he has hit his stride making loaves of breads using locally milled, organic grains. “It has replaced writing for me and the idea of creating something out of nothing,” Kirk says. “I ended up falling in love with making bread from just flour, water and salt.”
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