Did you guess all three...? Congratulations. You are right. At least, that's what the baking industry would like you to believe. As the industry sees it, there is virtually no difference in any of the above three pictures and no real standard as to what defines "Artisan Baker." But shouldn't there be? After all, the fashion industry celebrates its haute designers. To suggest that an off-the-rack dress purchased from a mall outlet is no different than a high end artistic creation, would horrify runway fashionistas. By the same token, artisan potters slipping and spinning a mound of clay into something truly unique bears no comparison to the mass of ceramic pots and toilets bowls made in massive factories - even if the clay used is the same. But, somehow, the baking industry says "artisan bread" means nothing more than what the label says it is.
So let's define "artisan bread." First off, we'll begin with a baker. That's right. A baker. An actual human who relies on his or her own knowledge, touch, smell and experience to fashion a great loaf of nutritious bread. Sadly, the vast majority of bread, crackers and bread type products baked in this country are no more likely to encounter an actual baker than cows have of taking up snowboarding.
With a real baker in place, we'll then want to verify that our baker uses a natural leaven or "sourdough" starter. Factory bakeries have neither the time nor the interest in cultivating a living culture of wild yeast, beneficial bacteria and fermenting dough. But bakers know that the way to a genuine loaf of tasty, nutritious bread is thru a starter and keeping that starter alive and healthy can extend back in time for years.
And finally, with a baker and starter in place, our definition of "artisan bread" should be a loaf shaped by hand, placed on a peel, slid into an oven and baked to the bakers exacting standards.
And that, by definition, should be what we mean when we say "Artisan Bread". For the industry to want to blur that distinction negates any meaningful celebration or adulation of the real artisan bakers among us. And that does a terrible disservice to bakers, their customers and the entire industry.