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Bread Through a Lens of Wine

Modernist Bread, the new 5-volume tome on the science of baking, reveals striking parallels of bread and wine
Photo by: The Cooking Lab, LLC
Francisco Migoya says a wine fridge is the perfect environment for rising bread.

Posted: Nov 20, 2017 2:30pm ET

From at least one baker's standpoint, wine and bread have more in common than it might seem. And it goes beyond the basic fact that they're both products of fermentation.

"There's no better definition of terroir than bread," says Francisco Migoya, co-author of Modernist Bread: The Art and Science, the formidable new $625 five-volume set from the team responsible for 2011's Modernist Cuisine. Migoya is the head chef for Nathan Myhrvold, the innovative scientist responsible for these groundbreaking books that delve in imposing detail into the science behind food.

"Sourdough bread represents everything that's in the environment," Migoya went on to explain. "If I give my neighbor my sourdough, over time the microbes in the air in his house will eventually take over from the ones in mine. The bread he makes from his starter will be different. That's terroir."

Scientists who study these things increasingly believe yeasts and bacteria in a vineyard site have a profound effect on the finished wine, just as the yeasts and bacteria in a sourdough starter affect bread.

Many winemakers will nod sagely at how Myhrvold explains what's happening as yeast in a sourdough starter consumes sugars and starch while bacteria add their own flavor. "He likes to say the yeast farts carbon dioxide as it makes alcohol, and bacteria pisses over everything," Migoya laughs. "He's an earthy guy."

A baker manages temperature and time, just as a winemaker does during fermentation, knowing that decisions at each step will affect the style of the finished product. A long, cool rise produces a finer textured bread, just as long, cool fermentation brings out more complexity in a wine.

Before he joined Myhrvold, Migoya owned Hudson Chocolates in New York, was executive pastry chef at both the French Laundry and Bouchon Bakery, and served as a professor at the Culinary Institute of America, where his areas of instruction included bread and pastry. Migoya's most recent book was The Elements of Dessert (John Wiley & Sons, 2012), for professional bakers.

Bread, wine and cheese have much in common, which may be why they're prime partners on the table as well. That other famous fermented-food category, cheese, follows a similar course to bread, in that time, temperature and bacterial mix determine the style of the finished product as much as the source of the milk.

By coincidence, a wine cellar provides the perfect environment for raising dough. Myrhvold and Migoya tried every temperature between 40° F (refrigerator temperature) and 70° F (room temperature) and consistently achieved the best results at 55° F (ideal wine cellar temperature).

"We took to using a small wine fridge, which comes set to 55° F," he says. Another thing wine and bread share.

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