The word “artisan” gets tossed around a lot these days and simply means “made in a traditional or non-mechanized way using high-quality ingredients.” Though there are really no specific industry standards for artisans to adhere to which makes their products “artisan” or not.
The main differences you will notice between artisan food items and mass-produced ones are the differences in the flavor, aroma, and texture of the food item. Mass-produced foods are made to appeal to the largest number of people possible, so that the company can sell as much as possible. Mass-produced foods also tend to be easily reproduced and use resources as efficiently as possible, controlled by computer, to cut down on costs. On the other hand, artisan-crafted food items are made utilizing high-quality ingredients and traditional methods of manufacture which are not minutely controlled by computers.
The main difference between artisan and mass-produced can be summed up in one word: Consistency. When you buy branded mass-produced bread, you know exactly what the flavor and texture of that bread will be before you even open the bag. Every loaf will be the same size, same color, same texture, and same flavor. The process for creating the bread is computer controlled to ensure every single loaf is the exact same.
An artisan bread maker makes their breads from scratch in small batches. There is no computer controlling the process – the amount of ingredients added, the amount of time the bread rises (if necessary), the temperature of the room the bread is in, the shape of the loaf, and more. Each loaf or batch will have distinct differences in size, texture, flavor, and so on. Breads typically made using artisan techniques include country loaves, ciabatta, brioche, some seeded breads, and others.
So… which is better?
Honestly? Artisan. Why? Again, what makes artisan bread so different from the mass-produced variety is that it is made by hand, typically with traditional yeast fermentation techniques, and (more often than not) made with unique ingredients with robust flavors and nice textures. If you have never had a loaf of artisan bread, you need to remedy that! You won’t be disappointed.
What are your thoughts on artisan foods? Have you ever had artisan bread? What are your favorite artisan breads? What makes them special? Let us know in the comments!