Food & Drink

Yes, Bread Sommelier Is a Real Title. Here’s What That Means

Yes, bread is delicious. But it can also be sour, bitter, malty, and even umami-forward. In 2015, the Akademie Deutsches Bäckerhandwerk (German Baking Academy) created a Certified Bread Sommelier program to elevate the appreciation of bread to that of fine wine. Many of Germany’s top bakers now call themselves brotsommeliers, or bread sommeliers.

If you don’t already associate Germany with bread-making, consider this: the country boasts more than 3,200 different types of bread, and UNESCO recognizes the entirety of German bread culture as an “intangible cultural heritage.”

Now, bakers from around the world can apply for the program. In 2023, the Akademie offered its first-ever English-language Bread Sommelier certification, and if they pass their qualifications, the first batch of international students will graduate this year. 

Here’s everything you need to know about becoming a bread sommelier. 

Learning the language of bread

Most of the students accepted into the sommelier program are already master bakers. But similar to how a winemaker might not know to best communicate the nuances of their wine to customers or the broader public, bakers might lack the right language to describe their bread.

During the year-long course, which includes a week of in-person classes in Germany and monthly virtual classes, students build a vocabulary called the Weinham Bread Language for describing bread’s appearance, aromas, and flavor.

That means they spend a lot of time analyzing the crust, crumb, texture, and color of bread. Then they smell it, squishing loaves like bellows and shoving slices right up to their nose like an oenophile nosing a glass. Finally, they taste the bread to assess its flavor and mouthfeel. 

A bread sommelier might describe bauernbrot, a rustic German loaf, as having a sweet, malty aroma with roasted almond notes, a slightly sour brightness, a firm and crunchy crust, and a close yet soft crumb. 

Bauernbrot, a classic German loaf.

Courtesy of Martin Sorge

Like the best sommeliers, bread sommeliers learn to pair their bread with other food, as well as drinks like wine and beer. Considering the vast array of German bread, this skill is important. A simple baguette, for example, pairs well with bright, lower-acid wines like a soft-edged Auxerrois or Pinot Blanc, and mild, creamy cheeses like brie.

The tangy bauernbrot needs a sturdy Lagrein or even a funky Trollinger, and could stand up to a funkier alpine cheese like Appenzeller and a smoky slice of speck. Hearty seeded loaves, popular in Germany, make a surprisingly good match with a full-bodied rosé.

Among other topics, bread sommelier trainees become versed in different grains, milling, and the ways in which various culture bake and eat bread. Bernd Kütscher, the director of Akademie, adds that bread sommeliers learn how to communicate the nutritional value of bread, and how it can be part of a healthy diet. 

What can you do with a ‘brotsommelier’ certificate?

According to Kütscher, the bread sommelier program is famous across German-speaking countries, and it has transformed the bread industry. He notes that bread sommeliers act as “ambassadors for bread,” organizing tasting events, appearing in the media, judging TV baking competitions, and amassing hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.

Some brotsommeliers like Axel Schmitt have become celebrities. Many proudly display their title on their bakery, including Michael Kress, who owns Michael Kress Brothandwerk in Weinheim. 

Kress had spent many years working at his family’s bakery, and after taking the sommelier course, realized he wanted to do things differently than his father. He struck out on his own, taking a more artisan approach to bread-making.

Today, Kress uses high-quality organic flours, employs ancient grains, and eschews baking improvers to craft long-fermented loaves like a turmeric-carrot bread, a hearty Urkorn (ancient grain) loaf, and a wheat sourdough moist with sweet polenta. It’s not uncommon to see a line outside his door before opening, and he regularly sells out of bread. Kress sees bakeries like his as the future of German baking.

Make that the future of baking around the world. William Leaman, the owner of Bakery Nouveau in Seattle, is one of the first dozen international students enrolled in the course and will graduate this year. The program has “changed how I think about bread,” says Leaman. “It has opened my mind to thinking far deeper about flavors and how flavors are perceived.”

 Want to apply? The 2024 session kicks off in July. Find more info here. 

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