Michael Matson brings a rich history of baking, and the science of its nature to Richland Park Farmer's Market each Saturday. Gnarwhal Bakery, formerly Ancestor Bakery (for those of you already addicted), offers beautifully handcrafted breads that will make you question all other breads. Well, most others. Gnarwhal Bakery's bread is right up there at the top with the fine breads of the world. The care in the process, from the particular milling of the grain, to the wood-fired oven it is baked in, brings old world traditions and taste to your table in Nashville.
Michael started baking in 2011, one month before he was supposed to start grad school. He could not help himself from trying it out. Baking looked like something he could start sinking his time into. He knew it would be demanding and consuming, and felt that he really needed that. As it turns out, he loved it and stuck to it. He went from a commercial bakery in Atlanta, to the Northeastern Coast where he worked at a wood-fired bakery in New Hampshire. In the Northeast, Michael was able to learn from bakers that were passionate about their craft. There are many styles of baking, and Michael found the style he connected with and wanted to explore and spend his time with.
Michael moved to Nashville last year with his beloved when they were expecting their first child. They moved from New Hampshire to be closer to family for when Ezekiel arrived, which he did in May. Michael was surprised that he could not find a baking job in Nashville, nor bread like he was able to offer. That is when he decided to start his bakery to continue growing in his passion, provide for his family, and share with our city his beautiful bread. Michael now uses all Southern sourced grains for his bread, and is very particular about how they are processed, before and after they reach his hands. Fresh, whole grains, before becoming flour, are rich in oils and are actually seeds that can be soaked, sprouted, and planted. The flour we find in stores is dry and void of these oils that give so much life and flavor to bread, just because of the way it's milled, which is often to preserve shelf life. Michael has his grains specially processed by two mills in North Carolina. He prefers the stone ground process because the germ oils stay in the flour, getting pressed in to add depths of flavor. These oils have a short shelf life, as all fresh foods do, and that is why his grains are milled to order in small batches so that they are always the most fresh and flavorful.
Gnarlwhal Bakery's breads are naturally leavened. A natural starter is used that contains a unique group of yeasts that will essentially eat the sugars that are the starch in flour. While these yeasts eat the sugars, the airy bubbles that we see as the empty, fluffy spaces that give bread its volume are formed. The fun part is that these little pockets aren't just air, they are pockets of one-of-a-kind tastes from the gasses produced while the yeasts eat and the bread rises, and makes the importance Michael places on fresh ground grains all the more justified. This is what makes Gnarlwhal Bakery's breads an experience rather than just a vehicle for toppings. Don't get me wrong, there is definitely synergy when pairing these breads with cheese, wine, and anything else wonderful; It only gets better. The process of a loaf from start to finish is 24 to 36 hours. To add even more flavor, texture, beauty, and heritage to his breads, Michael bakes them in a wood-fired oven. Outside of Citizen Kitchens, Michael bakes in a special oven built in Oregon that came to Nashville on a flatbed truck, just for Gnarwhal Bakery's bread.
Michael's two favorite breads are the City Bread and Zeke's Rye. The City Bread is made with its special starter, sifted wheat, and a little rye. It is mixed, fermented, shaped, then fermented again before baking. It is rather large, and is available in quarter, half, and whole loaves. Zeke's Rye is made with hand sprouted rye berries, soaked old rye bread, and rye flour. It follows an intricate process that results in dense, moist bricks of the most pleasant and unique rye bread you will ever have.
Come to the Richland Park Farmer's Market from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays to meet Michael and take home the most luxurious breads available.