The Bread Department Visits Local Bakeries
On a recent trip to Montpelier and nearby Middlesex, our Cheese & Bread Department, together with our Marketing team, got to witness firsthand the joy, love, and science that goes into baking bread. Manghi’s Bread of Montpelier and Red Hen Bakery of Middlesex take their communities into their hearts and give back in enriching, delicious ways.
Our first stop was Manghi’s, a family-owned & -operated bakery located in a downright charming house right in the state capitol. Before we even entered the building, we were assailed with sweet, yeast-y bakery aromas and knew we were in for a treat. Elaine Manghi, co-founder and -owner of this 34-year old bakery, greeted and shepherded us around the tiny space on the first floor of the house, making sure we saw and heard everything we needed to while also ensuring we stayed out of the way of the busy bakers!
We were lead first to the mixing room where two small, and we mean small, mixers were being run by Elaine’s niece, Zoe, who had gotten to work at 4:45am.
At that moment, she was working on the dough for their Wheat Bread and was periodically bringing buckets of dough to the baking room. From there we took a few steps through the kitchen and found ourselves in the small supply room, where Elaine’s daughter, Maria, joined us. The shelves were fairly empty at that point, but Elaine described just how full they’ll soon be with one of their seasonal treats, the Bourbon Cakes, which have to mature before being sold. (And are those dense and rich beauties worth the wait!)
On our way to the baking room, Dana offered us rolls fresh out of the oven, and there’s really nothing better than that, right? They were warm and lovely, and really hit the spot. In the baking room, Elaine’s son-in-law, Steve, along with another employee, Jocelyn, was cutting, weighing, and shaping loaves of Rye bread and also removing fresh loaves of Basic White from the oven, all while answering our questions. Talk about a professional!
This operation is all about family and it has been since the beginning; Elaine & her husband began the bakery in their kitchen in 1981 using hand-made wooden racks and starting off with the bread they were making for their family’s meals, High Protein. Today, those original racks are fitted into even larger racks and the crew is responsible for making 35 different varieties of baked goods. On average, about 400 loaves of bread are baked each day, though on the day we visited, the team was working extra-hard with the aim of baking 538 loaves, 46 dozen rolls, plus sweet buns and breads. And in addition to the family members already mentioned here, the rest of their employees- ten people, on average- are essentially family too!
But beyond that, it seems Manghi’s Bread sees the community of Montpelier as extended family, selling fresh rolls to kids on their way to school for 5 or 10 cents apiece, fulfilling customer requests for certain kinds of breads (customers who will then come into the mixing room/retail shop and ask for ‘my bread’), and finding volunteers from the community to make deliveries to their 40 wholesale customers, including a little place on Dorset Street! So, if you’re ever in Montpelier at Manghi’s Bread and you see a sign that asks, “Anyone going to the Dorset Street area today?”, feel free to stop by with our bread delivery and say “hi!”
Fewer than 10 miles away from Manghi’s Bread is Red Hen Baking Company, our next stop. Compared to Manghi’s, Red Hen is a veritable youngster in the baking world, having started in 1999. Yet despite their few years, this bakery has done truly amazing things when it comes to crafting artisan bread with an intense focus on organic, local ingredients and a deep understanding of the science involved.
Their location in Middlesex includes a cozy cafe with large windows to the bakery, allowing patrons to view the science and magic of baking. As we were peering through these windows, Brian, the Wholesale Manager, claimed us and took us in for the tour.
From Brian, we learned that operations at Red Hen Co. are practically 24/7, starting with the mixers at 6am, then the formers, followed by the bakers around 4:30pm, the packers around 9pm, and, finally, the drivers at 5am. Together, they are responsible for creating and delivering approximately 2000 loaves each day!
Most of the breads are referred to as ‘naturally-leavened’, meaning they are made from a starter batch consisting of flour, water, salt, and naturally-occurring friendly bacteria & yeast, which is fed every twelve hours, the result of which is sourdough-style bread that is not too sour. Tangy & complex: yes. Lip-puckering: no way. Only a few of their breads, including the Baguettes, Ciabatta, and Cyrus Pringle get a little bit of extra yeast added, resulting in milder flavors and thinner crusts. The large room where we started held a huge mixing machine manned by Dave, the head baker, several buckets of starters, a bin of sprouting grains destined to added to a batch of Sprouternickel in a couple days, tubs of ciabatta dough, and ample empty racks and baskets waiting for dough.
After a trip to the cooler, where there’s a rack filled with Yukon Gold potatoes which would later that day become part of Red Hen’s delicious Potato Bread- in fact, a full 25% of that bread are these Vermont-grown potatoes- and tubs of ‘sponge’, we got a shock to our systems by entering the baking room: warm is an understatement! Randy, co-owner of Red Hen, joined us as we admired the massive, multi-layered, hearth oven responsible for finishing off the much-loved loaves. Weighing 15 tons and holding 4 compartments, it uses the ancient technology of radiant heat to bake the bread in uneven ways which gives the loaves their multi-toned hues. In fact, Randy told us they train their bakers to know the bread is done when there are three colors visible.
Before we got to the very satisfying finale (a bread tasting!), Randy and Brian talked to us about just how closely they work with local farmers to get the exact kind of flours they need. Working hand-in-hand with local farmers such as Ben Gleason of Gleason’s Grains and Tom Kenyon of The Nitty Gritty Grain Co., as well as the Northern Grain Growers Association and UVM faculty, these bakers are able to specify the type, quality, and milling of the grains they use and to amp up the amount of Vermont-grown grains in their breads. Or, they can, but only to a certain extent: as we know, Mother Nature really has the final word when it comes to what’s available.
We left Red Hen Baking Company with a deep respect for the knowledge and commitment of the bakers and employees of the company, who know so much of the ‘why’s and how’s’ of bread-making, and who also know the value of making local products out of local ingredients. As times and demands change, we can trust this bakery to keep the community of Vermont in their hearts, and to keep that oven going!