Roman Bergner '20 recounts his journey in learning how to make bread from scratch, turning it into a new entrepreneurial experiment called Moonsmoke
In the summer of 2017, just before transferring to St. Lawrence, Roman Bergner ’20 discovered an ancient grain called einkorn. “I bought this book to learn to bake with einkorn, and it mentioned making bread with a natural leaven or sourdough,” says Bergner. “I started my first starter dough from the recipe in the book,” he says, “but I threw it out when I came to St. Lawrence because I thought managing a starter at school would be too difficult.”
In March of the following year, Bergner found new inspiration on Instagram and in the work of a San Francisco–based bakery called Tartine. “I was taken in by the allure and started my second starter dough in my dorm room at 62 Park,” he says. Tartine Bread, written by Chad Robertson, is one of the books Bergner credits for teaching him to bake the way he does now. Bergner admits “I got sucked in. Robertson paints the story of his quest for the perfect loaf of bread—one with ‘old soul’ as he puts it.”
While home on break in Fairfield, Connecticut, Bergner found a random recipe online, followed it step by step, and using the starter he created in his dorm, baked his first loaf of sourdough. That starter dough has since been named Barclay, is now fed three times a day, and is among Bergner’s top priorities. The name comes from the Norse kingdom mythology, and Barclay is essential to the success of Bergner’s effort to establish a CSB, or Community Supported Bakery, a business Bergner modeled after Community Supported Agriculture or CSAs. Currently, Bergner has sold 18 shares for his signature North Country loaf and has added his experimental Porridge loaf to his offerings.
The name of his entrepreneurial experiment is Moonsmoke, inspired by a song from the band Caamp and “that liminal space when the moon is just covered in wisps of fog or clouds in the night,” something Bergner says he and his peers wondered about during their time in St. Lawrence’s Sustainability Program.
“Moonsmoke wouldn’t exist without my experience in the Sustainability Program,” says Bergner. “I think of Moonsmoke as a traveling bakery. It moves with me where I go, but I know its real home is in that farm kitchen,” he says.
Moonsmoke loaves are made entirely from locally sourced ingredients. “New York state has an amazing grain shed that has been built up over the last decade,” explains Bergner. Because his business is too small to work directly through a distributor, Bergner orders everything from Farmer Ground Flour Mill in Trumansburg, New York, by way of Nature’s Storehouse on Main Street in Canton.
The reasoning behind Bergner’s decision to locally source his bread is threefold. “I want to support local farmers and the work they are doing to rebuild our grain infrastructure in the Northeast,” he says. The thought of fossil fuels being used to transport ingredients from distant locations doesn’t sit right with Bergner either, especially when it is something that can be avoided.
The third reason? Taste. Bergner says he is a big proponent of terroir, the influence of all local environmental factors that contribute to a crop or ingredient’s unique flavor characteristics. In other words, Bergner wants to understand what local tastes like. Along with this curiosity is his drive to experiment with the complexities of grains. “We talk about the effect of climate change, land, and vintage with wines, but you can do the same with flour,” he says.
When asked where he sees Moonsmoke going in the future, Bergner answers, “I know I will go into baking at some point in the near future even if it isn’t right away. I really want to move to San Francisco after school. I love the farming and food culture of the Bay Area.”
For now, Bergner continues to experiment with the unique flavors of the North Country through his partner Barclay and the inspiration of that liminal space when the moon is just covered in wisps of fog or clouds in the night.