The morning air is still cool as I step out onto Howell Street. The sun is up, but it hasn’t crested Bisbee’s ‘“B” Mountain yet, so the picturesque town is cast in shadows. When I climb the steps to the historic YWCA’s small commercial kitchen, it’s 5:30 a.m. and Juliette Beaumont is already shaping the first of a dozen loaves of artisanal sourdough bread she will bake that morning and sell at the Bisbee Farmers’ Market.
Wearing colorful Day of the Dead-inspired chef’s wear, the owner of Guadalupe Baking Company greets me with a smile and offers me coffee, which I gratefully accept. Then she returns to her bread. That glorious bread.
Beaumont makes many varieties of loaves, but they all start with the same dough created from the same “special starter,” which she refers to as her fourth child. “It needs to be fed and cared for just like a baby,” she says of the culture, which is home to the wild yeast that makes her bread rise. “You have to feed it regularly by adding more flour and water. It’s eating and farting—letting out gas—and growing. It’s a colony of living micro-organisms, and if you don’t feed it, it will die. The by-product of these micro-organisms is what causes the dough to rise. The yeast is alive until the tail end of the baking cycle.”
“Bread is like ceramics. They say you have to throw 1,000 pots before you’re any good at it. Well, you have to bake 1,000 loaves before you have any real control over it.”
Each new batch of sourdough contains a portion of the last batch, ensuring continuity in the bread’s flavor and texture. “I started this culture about 20 years ago,” she adds. “So it’s pretty young as far as starters go. I’ve heard of some that are more than 200 years old.”
Beaumont uses a cold ferment process. Using her starter dough, she makes a fresh batch, rolls it in a ball, and then refrigerates it for two days. This results in a long, slow, cold rise, which “gives it more flavor,” she says. “I don’t have to add eggs, dairy, conditioners, or other ingredients to give it flavor.” The dough is made with only high-quality, unbromated, unbleached flours, filtered water, and sea salt.
Given the long fermentation of her bread—compared to the four or five hours given to commercially prepared breads—she says that even people with gluten issues find they can eat her bread with no ill after-effects. “This bread is naturally leavened,” she explains. “Commercially yeasted bread is meant to save time, not to make better bread, and they’re much harder for the body to break down.”
She makes a variety of loaves: jalapeño and Mexican cheese focaccia, seed and nut focaccia, baguettes—plain and stuffed (the fig jam baguette is to die for)—boules, batards, sandwich and braided loaves, and plans to add New York-style bagels and pizza dough to her product line. Beaumont says that all of her breads are made from the same dough. The different names—boule, baguette, focaccia—simply denote the shape of the bread.
“The shape determines the crumb structure,” she says. “And crumb structure determines what the bread can be used for.” For example, a boule, with its tighter crumb structure, makes for a good sandwich bread because it can hold in the sandwich’s “guts.”
Since starting Guadalupe Baking Co. in 2010, Juliette’s bread has earned an ardent following. Without a retail storefront, Juliette sells her bread at the High Desert Market in Bisbee and at the Sierra Vista Food Co-op, as well as at both the Bisbee and Sierra Vista Farmers’ Markets, where she regularly sells out in just a couple of hours.
Juliette’s life as a baker started many years before she started her business. “It’s like that Steve Jobs commencement speech,” she says, “where you look back and connect the dots.”
After moving back and forth between Arizona and California, where she’s from, a record-setting 122-degree Phoenix day sent her south. After camping in the Dragoon Mountains with her parents, a chance visit to Bisbee in 1994 changed everything. “About 45 minutes after driving into town, I rented a house,” she says, laughing.
She continued her work as a visual artist and also got into selling antiques and collectibles, something that she could do with her young children in tow. She began making bread for her young family only after it became almost impossible to find good quality bread in the supermarket. “My sister gave me a cookbook that had a chapter about how to create a starter. The bread was delicious and the children loved it. I occasionally baked extra for school bake sales and various fund-raisers,” she says.
Five years ago while bartending at St. Elmo’s, an iconic saloon in the heart of Brewery Gulch in Old Bisbee, she met a couple who were opening a pizza shop. When she found out they didn’t yet have a dough recipe, she agreed to help them out. She traveled all over the region to learn everything she could about pizza dough and how to cook it in a wood-fired oven. She spent hours testing hundreds of recipes. When the shop opened, the pizza was a big hit. The only problem: Juliette realized that making nothing but pizza balls was boring. When she started offering her loaves of bread on the restaurant’s menu, customers went crazy for it. When people began asking to purchase extra loaves to take with them, she knew she was on to something. After only a few months, she quit the pizza business and opened Guadalupe Baking Co.
“Everything just kind of fell into place,” she says. The kitchen at the YWCA became available and Juliette was able to find inexpensive used equipment at thrift shops and sales. “I was worried because my savings were dwindling, but it really took off.”
She estimates she spends about 40 hours a week making bread, baking on some days and making dough on others. “I like working alone,” she says. “Bread is something I can do by myself.” Bread is also something that requires the creativity and talent of an artist, she says. “Bread is like ceramics. They say you have to throw 1,000 pots before you’re any good at it. Well, you have to bake 1,000 loaves before you have any real control over it—especially naturally leavened bread, which operates on its own time schedule.”
With the help of her two sisters, Juliette is working on a bread cookbook, and hopes to begin selling her starter soon, too. She also bakes specialty cakes from time to time.
For more information, visit GuadalupeBakingCompany.com. ✜
Tucson native Romi Carrell Wittman is a marketing and communications director by profession and a freelance writer for fun.