Luke Opperman developed a love for baking at just 4 years old while helping his mother bake bread for the family. Now, as an adult, he is still as fascinated as ever by the process and the experimentation of baking, but perhaps even more so by the connection to the community that he offers.
Opperman and his wife have lived in Milledgeville for just over seven years. Opperman, who is from Washington, said he and his wife faithfully enjoy attending the downtown farmer’s market after moving to town. They started to think of ways to contribute something to the market that they enjoyed so much.
And so, our Big Oak bakery was born about five years ago. It’s a small bakery named after one of the trademarks of the southern community that the Oppermans now call home.
“We were looking for a short, memorable name that was sort of based on our property here in Baldwin County, and there was a large oak tree peering out of the window here,” Opperman said.
A computer programmer by training, Opperman turned his love for baking into a part-time business. More recently, the business has grown by offering online orders and weekly pickups of breads and pastries that locals love. But this shift from baking for himself and other family members to baking for paying customers did not happen overnight, he said.
“It was really a long, slow evolution of this kind of utilitarian family baking to the realization that I could do a little bit more,” he said.
Much of his inspiration comes from the bakeries he visited which also have excellent cookbooks such as Bake In The Day Bakery in Savannah, Sister Pie in Detroit, and Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.
While honing his craft over the years, he began to find ways to get a little more whimsical and make that change to start cooking for family, friends, and special events. It wasn’t until he moved to Milledgeville that he said he really started to see baking as a way to engage with the community, but that’s one of the things he did. most appreciated. He said he was grateful for the customers of Our Big Oak and the connections he was able to build with them through his business.
“It really served my goal of meeting people from the community,” he said. “Certainly the Farmers’ Markets have been a great way to get to know people outside of our circle and to have that personal connection. “
One of the things he loves most about baking is the experimentation that comes with it. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, he took advantage of the downtime to revamp several of his recipes. He enjoys refining recipes and responding to customer requests for variations.
And, he loves the cooking process too. He said most of the breads he makes take 20 to 30 hours to come out of the oven. This gives her plenty of time to focus on the physical act of rolling out the dough and paying attention to her progress.
Our Big Oak offers several different items. Some of the most popular are variations of sourdough breads, three different variations of croissants, and several other breads including baguettes, focaccia and bagels, as well as fruit pies, fruit muffins, pastries, cookies and Moreover. Opperman said he tries to use as many local ingredients as possible, whether it’s herbs, fruits or figs for the filling.
All breads are baked fresh to order. Orders are taken online at www.ourbigoak.com between Friday and Tuesday. Interested shoppers can go online and place their order on those days, then pick them up in Milledgeville on Thursday afternoon at the Market Collective on Wayne Street.
Opperman said he was grateful to Donna Collins of The Market Collective for the space she offered for order pickup.
“She has been very supportive of what I’m doing and has offered a space for people to come and have the whole afternoon to pick it up,” he said.
Opperman also does special orders for events. He can be contacted via the website, by email at [email protected], or by phone at 530-330-5853.