Tony DeRego of Starkville is loaded with fresh bread he and his wife, Becky Hagenston, made for their DeRego’s Bread booth at the Starkville Community Market. Photo by: Micah Green/Dispatch Staff
August 21, 2013 8:46:02 AM
Troy DeRego of Starkville had never given much serious thought to how bread ends up on the table -- until he was responsible for getting it there. Oddly enough, the story begins at sea, during the New Hampshire native's college years.
While pursuing a degree in fine arts from the Rhode Island School of Design, DeRego spent six weeks on the ocean with the Sea Education Association, based out of Woods Hole, Mass.
"We all had to take turns running the galley," he explained. "The galley is pretty well stocked with food, but bread is the one thing you can't keep fresh." To satisfy his hungry shipmates, DeRego became a quick study in baking. The experience opened his eyes to how, with a little advance planning, "you can have fresh bread with every meal, even someplace crazy like the middle of the ocean."
Throughout the ensuing years -- in which DeRego turned screenplay writer, artist, filmmaker and Web site designer -- he never lost the organic enjoyment of bread-making.
"I realized that as much as I enjoyed making one loaf, there's just something about baking a lot of them," he said. "We just kept expanding, making deliveries to friends ... "
This summer, DeRego and his wife -- Becky Hagenston, an award-winning author and Mississippi State professor of English and creative writing -- fanned the culinary pastime into a flourishing trade at the Starkville Community Market. DeRego's Bread's hearth-baked, slowly fermented and naturally leavened baguettes, whole wheat sourdough, signature "Starkville sourdough," Portuguese biscuits and other specialties proved a hit at the weekly farmers' market. So much so, that DeRego is exploring options for expanding to a permanent storefront.
"I knew there was a market for the bread, but it's definitely exceeded my expectations. I think people are really eager for something more worldly; they have traveled a lot and recognize bread they've had in other places," he remarked, adding that Europeans coming to the United States are sometimes baffled by Americans' affinity for "supermarket bread."
Hearth and home
DeRego and Hagenston's summer enterprise has been a time-consuming one. Few days go by that there isn't something that needs to be done in their spacious kitchen, where all the baking takes place. DeRego averages about one free day per week, which he usually spends practicing with the Starkville-based rock band Mortar Kit.
"Baking is a team effort, he said. "It's really easy to let the kitchen become a disaster area; it takes a little extra work to make sure the home stays happy."
Hagenston has become a master at Portuguese biscuits, her husband praised. The doughnut-shaped "cookies" have been a big draw at the couple's market vendor tent on Saturday mornings. The recipe is from the Azores and has long been one of DeRego's mother's go-to treats to make for holidays.
"It's a little bit exotic; it just felt like the right product, and we've been really thrilled to introduce people here to something new," said DeRego.
He has prepared different variations of sourdough, something he developed a love for during the decade he lived in San Francisco, which is famous for the bread. A retail space would allow him to expand to other products, as well.
The Starkville Community Market will be open Aug. 24 (7:30-10:30 a.m.), and possibly Aug. 31, before closing for the season, but DeRego is compiling an email list of those interested in updates on how to still enjoy the breads and about future plans. Sign up at deregosbread.com. Or follow them on facebook.
As special events and projects coordinator for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, Jennifer Prather acts as Starkville Community Market manager.
"Since the beginning, Troy has been very motivated to offer the public a whole niche of something different that we don't have here at our fingertips," she said. While the farmers' market is a quality of life component of the community, it can also help incubate and grow vendors' enterprises. In DeRego's case, the weekly market exposure lays the foundation for a ready clientele for the retail venture he hopes to launch, possibly by early 2014.
But whatever the near future holds, it will still be the process of creating these special breads that satisfies DeRego. It's the feeling he gets when sitting at the table, sharing meat, cheese and a loaf of freshly-baked bread with his wife. It's such a delicious and simple thing, he said, sharing that with family and friends.
"I guess I feel like it's alchemy, taking these raw materials, and then they go through so many transformations to finally become the finished bread," he said. "Each of them takes a certain amount of care and nurturing to get it to the next step, and the end result brings such joy."
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Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.