PERRYVILLE — One of the crowd favorites at the Lexington Country Club, where Robert Myers is the new chef, has been a normally pedestrian sandwich, the BLT.
What made Myers' sandwich such a hit wasn't just the Stone Cross Farms smoked bacon, although that was great. Or the heirloom tomatoes and fresh lettuce, although also very nice.
What elevated this sandwich to gourmet was the bread: thick, slightly toasted slices of Myers' own salt-risen bread.
Salt-risen or salt-rising bread is a holdover from pioneer days, a way of making bread without a starter you must maintain or adding extra yeast. Almost nobody makes it anymore because it is so tricky.
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"Sourdough bread's a lot of work, but salt-risen's even more," Myers said. "You make your starter over and over, every week. You make the mash each time. ... And since we don't use any yeast at all, there's no quick rise. It's a very slow rise, which makes it more flavorful, and breaks down the flour more, and makes it more easily digestible."
And the payoff is all in the taste. At its best, salt-risen tastes almost cheesy.
Myers, who lives with his wife and eight children just outside of Perryville, makes the bread once a week in a wood-fired brick oven he built.
And it's a family affair: His 21-year-old daughter, Rachel, makes the starter mash on Friday using milk, potato and cornmeal from Sunflower Sundries out of Mount Olivet, made with heirloom "Hickory King" corn.
On Sunday, one of his sons fills the 35-square-foot oven with wood (scrap from a local lumberyard), which will burn down to charcoal overnight and heat the 2,000 bricks to a very high heat.
By Monday morning, when Myers and his daughter go out to make their breads — they also make whole wheat buns and round peasant and farmhouse loaves — it will have cooled down to about 600 degrees. They will be able to bake in it for three days without reheating it.
Using flour ground from Kentucky-grown wheat for extra nuttiness by Weisenberger Mills in Midway, they make the doughs and form a table full of loaves. Altogether, they will make as many as 1,000 rolls (used at restaurants such as Idle Hour Country Club), and about 50 loaves of the sourdough and other artisan breads. But only 30 loaves of the salt-risen bread.
Salt-risen, which is made by only a handful of bakeries in Central Kentucky, is incredibly popular but not easy to make.
The salt — Myers uses unrefined Celtic French sea salt from the Isle de Re — is actually what slows down the rising .
In the summer, they add some salt to the starter to keep it from getting too hot and killing the yeast; in cooler weather, the salt goes into the dough.
After a couple of turns, the dough is ready to be formed into loaves, where it will rise for about six hours before baking for about 30 minutes in the hot brick oven. The yield will be a dense, golden two-pound loaf.
Now that Robert Myers is working full-time as a chef again, his daughter is baking more bread, and eventually she might take over.
It's clear there is a demand for salt-risen and other artisan breads, but Myers cautions against seeing bread as a golden opportunity. It's a lot of work, he said.
"You have to want to do it. You have to want to do good food. If you think you're going into this business to become famous, or get really rich, it's a false idea. You just have to really love it," Myers said. "The glamour is really not there. It comes down to loving what you're doing."