"I never thought I'd be a baker, or that baking bread would become such a passion for me. But here I am!" says Jeff Laine, founder of Europa Crust.
Jeff spent his entire working career
in the food industry starting out delivering food products to stores and
working his way up to national sales and providing specialty flavors and
ingredients to food manufacturers. “So much of the food we eat and what
is offered to us in grocery stores is designed with chemicals to make it look
appealing and have a long shelf life,” he says. “I had already become
disillusioned with the big food industry and when I got laid off during the
Covid pandemic, I started baking bread from natural ingredients, just as
something to do. I quickly realized I could bake a loaf of bread with
only three ingredients and the taste and texture was
amazing! Much better than even the bakery bread you get at the grocery
store where they use industrial yeast so they can bake and sell a loaf in the
Jeff bakes his bread in the traditional Old-World style, feeding his starter yeast two times a day (starting at 4am), mixing the dough and forming loaves which are then left to rise (proof) overnight before baking. “It’s all done by hand, by feel. In the beginning, the loaves weren’t necessarily what I would call pretty, but the flavor was there. And so I began practicing shaping and forming the loaves. It’s an art and like any other art, you need to have patience. The look of each loaf varies, but I think they’re all beautiful in their own right,” he says.
So instead of tossing his practice loaves away, Jeff began delivering them to friends, leaving them on their front stoops. “I was just giving them away to friends and neighbors. But after so many said, “this is the best bread I’ve ever eaten – you need to sell it!” I began to think. I found so much joy in what I was doing, and it seemed a million miles in the other direction of what I had been doing and selling to the big food manufacturers and distributors. I slowly came to the realization that starting a bakery was not a crazy idea and I could do something I could be proud of. So with the support of my wife and the help of a friend, I opened up Europa Crust.”
Jeff spent a lot of time deliberating on what breads to bake. “I’ve tried so many different styles of bread baking – bagels, pizza dough, certain types of French bread. But I wanted to have a core group of breads to start. And they each had to be a little different in taste and texture. So I finally settled on a line-up of five breads. Two true sourdoughs, one white (San Francisco-style) and one wheat (French-style). I wanted a really hearty bread and included the 5-Grain. And I wanted a traditional bread that would go with anything and that’s the Rustic Italian. The last one in the lineup was a bread that was made familiar to me by my great grandmother, Mumma, who immigrated here from Finland. As a boy growing up in northeast Ohio, my family ate Nissu (Pulla), a sweet bread, and I thought that would round out the core group. Finn's are notorious for coffee time, multiple times a day and Nissu was always on the table." Jeff says he plans to add other breads to the mix, but wants to get the bakery up and running smoothly before doing so. “These five breads are enough to get started,” he says.
In a world where everything we do is becoming more fast-paced and personal connections with traditions are quickly fading, it can be a small thing, like eating a slice of bread formed by a human hand the way it was done centuries ago, that can, at least for a moment, provide you with a simple joy.