Excerpted from The Spokesman-Review/Spokane
Wed., Sept. 7, 1983, Spokane, Wash.
Rita R. Robison
Toscana Baking Co. Inc., located In the San Francisco Bay area, is the world's largest baker of sourdough bread. The firm sells sourdough products in 40 states including Hawaii. Toscana bakes under three labels — Toscana, Parisian and Colombo. (Toscana merged with Colombo Baking Co. in 1971, and the Parisian Bakery was purchased in 1982.)
Robert Herrick is a partner in the Toscana operation, which has six Bay-area plants.
The starter or "mother," is the unique ingredient in sourdough bread. Flour and water are allowed to ferment and this mixture acts as a natural “yeast” which causes the bread to rise. The starters used by Toscana's bakeries have been growing since the 1880's and perhaps longer, Herrick said.
Gold prospectors are credited with bringing sourdough starter to the bay area during the Gold Rush of 1849. However. Costa Zmay, of Toscana's national marketing operation, said the history of sourdough bread dates back to ancient Egyptian times when a ball of dough was kept in a bag at body temperature.
At Toscana's 78,000 square-foot bakery in Oakland. Calif., bakers set the dials for the amount of unbleached flour and water that are piped into huge mixers. Flour and water, plus starter and a small amount of salt, are the only ingredients used in sourdough bread, and Herrick points out that preservatives have never been used in his firm's products. Since milk and sugar are not used in the sourdough breads, they do not mold. Hence, the sourdoughs stay fresh longer than regular bread.
At the Oakland plant, 70 pounds of starter are added to each 600-pound batch of sourdough. A portion of each mixture is retained as starter for another batch. The starter is partly responsible for the hard crust of the sourdough bread, Herrick said, but steam in the first 10 minutes of baking (used to keep the bread from rising too rapidly) and proofing (rising) periods also contribute. Sourdough bread is proofed each time it is handled, Herrick said, and it takes a total of six hours to make the bread.
After mixing, the bread dough is placed in a divider which separates the dough into certain-size loaves. Next, the bread is shaped in a rounder machine; then it is deposited into rows of canvas carriers where it is proofed in an overhead proof box before it is carried to the molder. The molder forms the bread into the shape of loaf desired. The bread is moved along automated lines on bread boards dusted with corn meal. From the molder, the bread goes into a proof box, then into the oven. Toscana's Oakland bakery has two bread lines and a roll line. The plant has four ovens including a 95-foot tunnel oven which is energy efficient because it has only one gas burner and drive line rather than the three of each some other commercial bakery ovens contain. The Oakland plant produces an average of 120,000 loaves of bread and packages of rolls daily.
Most of Toscana's breads are sold fresh and the firm has 250 fresh routes that deliver bread regularly as far as Reno, Nev., Visalia, Calif., (south of Fresno) and north to the Oregon border.
Toscana freezes some of its breads and rolls and ships them in refrigerated trucks. The frozen bread is put out on store shelves about 7 a.m., in time to thaw before the stores' 9 a.m. opening.
Warm, fresh-baked Colombo sourdough bread is also available in places like Spokane because stores finish baking frozen "brown-and-serve" bread, which has been one-third baked at the factory.
About one-half of Toscana's breads and rolls are baked completely and the other half are the brown-and-serve variety. Sixty percent of the firm's products are sourdough and 40 percent are “sweet," made with sugar and yeast rather than sourdough starter.
Baltimore, Maryland is the furthest point east where Toscana ships sourdough bread.