Troy DeRego is pictured Monday with some of his Naturally Fermented Whole Grain Sourdough Crackers at DeRego's Bread at 109 W. Main St. in Starkville. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
DeRego's whole grain sourdough crackers can be topped with a variety of appetizing flavors. Here they star with fresh figs, goat cheese, roasted bell pepper, arugula and aged Gouda at his shop Monday.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
Troy DeRego's Craft Beer Sourdough Crackers are made using spent grains from local craft brewers.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
July 27, 2016 10:43:12 AM
One might say baker Troy DeRego is going crackers. And it would be a compliment. The Starkville entrepreneur known for artisanal breads like Portuguese biscuits, Kalamata olive bread, rosemary raisin bread and even "Starkville sourdough" has developed a line of naturally fermented whole grain sourdough crackers that could transform the business model of DeRego's Bread.
In three short years, DeRego has grown his bread-making enterprise from the kitchen of his home, baking breads and pastries to sell at the Starkville Community Market, to a brick-and-mortar shop downtown, currently open Wednesdays and Fridays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Community Market is still an important Saturday outlet during its season, but DeRego's customers also sign up for Community Supported Baker (CSB) subscriptions, standing orders for specific products they pick up every Friday at the shop. Those available specialties now include the crackers that have this baker excited about the future. Part of the bread-making process helped inspire the cracker concept.
Origins of a fresh idea
"We love to make naturally leavened whole grain breads with a long, slow fermentation," DeRego says. "Customers are interested in eating more whole grains, sourdough and fermented food, but many are concerned about how to keep bread fresh long enough to enjoy it. I'm a consumer, too, so I understand." That age-old problem is where bread long ago took a "wrong turn" toward additives and preservatives, the baker believes.
"But that's not the answer," DeRego says. He's thought long and hard about the problem of how to provide wholesome sustenance that also keeps well.
At this juncture, it might help to know that DeRego baked his first loaf of bread on a research schooner while spending a college semester at sea. In developing skills to feed the crew, required reading included historical and maritime literature that frequently mentioned the staple of every sailor's existence during long sea voyages -- hardtack, or sea biscuits. This simple, hard cracker could last in a ship's hold indefinitely as vessels ventured out to explore new lands.
Drawing on past and present knowledge, DeRego began putting puzzle pieces together.
"Now, I know of a natural preservative that not only extends shelf life, but adds wonderfully complex flavors," he begins. "In fact, because the process of maintaining a sourdough starter can result in a discarded portion, I've been baking off sourdough starter simply as a means to dispose of it. In the morning when I remove it from the oven it always looks and smells good enough to eat. So I have. The only thing missing is a bit of salt, and voila! I have recreated the original road food. ... This is what I've been searching for."
DeRego's Bread's Whole Grain Sourdough Crackers have become a hit at the bakery and Community Market. Favorite flavors include Sunflower Seed, Sesame Sticks and Flax Seed Rye. The Craft Beer Crackers have also been getting attention; they use spent grains from the brewing process in Pale Ale Rye Crackers and Russian Imperial Stout Crackers.
The line of crackers opens new doors for the artisan. Now, for the first time, he has a product with a shelf life that allows it to be shipped around the country.
"We could pursue wholesale accounts with retailers all over the region," DeRego says.
All-natural specialty foods are in high demand, and there are new success stories every day, he adds. The one thing the successes have in common is having a presence at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City.
"Making a good impression there can lead to your products on shelves in specialty food stores all across the country."
DeRego, who has already demonstrated a knack for reaching goals, has set some clearly-defined objectives for himself: selling 10,000 bags of crackers by the end of 2016 and taking the product to the Fancy Food Show next June.
"Of course, this shift in focus means some of our other popular items will have to take a back seat," he explains. While DeRego's Bread will soon no longer serve sandwiches or pizza, patrons will still be able to get breads and pastries through the CSB subscription service available at deregosbread.com, or by stopping by the bakery at 109 W. Main St. Pickup will be on Friday afternoons, in time to stock up for the weekend.
"None of this would be possible without the incredible support of our loyal customers," DeRego emphasized. "We're thrilled to have a plan to share healthy delicious fermented whole grains products with a much wider audience -- and can't wait to see where it takes us next!"
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.