Olde Hearth Bread relies on simple formulas, natural ingredients, long fermentation times, old-fashioned hand forming and the other basic building blocks of baking to make great-tasting bread and rolls.
By Dan Malovany
Olde Hearth Bread actually had an old hearth, or something close to it, when the bakery started up just a little more than a decade ago. The central Fla.-based company’s first oven was a Jjopis, or what can best be described as a unique, hand-built oven made in Spain.
Not many bakers may have heard about this Old World oven. In fact, when Shannon Talty began the hiring process for his first employee, only Janice Brahm, an artisan baker from the southern part of the state, had worked on one in the past.
Naturally, he hired her, and to this day, he’s glad he did.
“She was just a dynamo force in organizing me and the place overall,” says Talty, who with his father, David, founded the Casselberry, Fla.-based bakery in 1998. “She has done more product development for us than any other single person since we have been open, and without a doubt, we would not be where we are without her.”
Today, Olde Hearth Bread is recognized by many of the top chefs and high-end restaurant owners throughout the Orlando market as one of the leading suppliers of artisan breads and rolls. Word of mouth, Talty notes, has been the No. 1 way in which the up-and-coming bakery has grown.
“When a prospective customer calls up and asks for artisan breads, and then you’re able to deliver a product that impresses them, the word gets passed around,” he says.
Olde Hearth Bread produces its high-quality breads by sticking to age-old tradition. The building blocks for its all-natural and organic products are simply flour, water, yeast and salt. For many artisan breads and rolls, the bakery uses a variety of starters, including a combination of poolish, levan and white, rye and Italian sours, along with long fermentation and rest times. In fact, some products take as long as 36 hours to produce. That’s why the company has a two-day lead time for orders.
“We’re not just using one starter for all of our products,” Talty says. “That’s because each starter gives our products their unique flavor.”
Additionally, the bakers pay specific attention to the products’ internal crumb and external crust textures. For customers who want a heartier crust, Olde Hearth Bread packages its products in paper bags. Those who want a slightly longer shelf life can get their breads and rolls in plastic bags. The company prides itself on developing custom-designed baked goods that are made to order.
Talty’s and Brahm’s favorite product is the company’s ciabatta bread, which comes in a 1.5- and 3-lb. size and features its signature open-hole texture and crispy crust. However, the bakery also produces dozens of varieties of breads and rolls, including country French bread, a semolina loaf, organic sliced panned breads, flavored focaccia and stone-ground wheat bread, baguettes, subs, Kaisers and a number of one-of-a-kind, signature products for its array of upscale retail and foodservice customers.
Staying in ControlProducing artisan breads in the brutally hot and humid climate in central Florida takes some skills to do. From mid-October through April, Talty says, the weather is the best. Summertime is traditionally the most challenging season for producing and delivering Old World breads.
To provide consistency during the process, the 7,500-sq.-ft. plant is temperature-controlled with the makeup room at a steady 65°F to 70°F range and steady relative humidity. The bakery uses a water softener and chiller to purify it and maintain proper dough temperatures during the mixing and fermentation process. Starters are stored overnight in a temperature-controlled cooler.
All ingredients ranging from chopped onions and vegetables to cheese fillings and roasted onion or garlic are prepped in-house a day prior to usage. Currently, the bakery uses about one truckload of bag flour a week, but as the operation expands, the company is looking to install a flour silo.
Typically, production runs on two, 10-hour shifts, seven days a week. Mixing begins around 6 a.m. with makeup and hand forming of products throughout the day and into the evening. Baking typically runs from noon to past midnight with packaging beginning at 8 p.m. and running until the trucks begin delivery between 4 and 9 a.m.
In the production area, two, 550-lb. mixers crank out small batches ranging from 250 to 500 lbs. every 20 to 30 minutes. After resting on the floor from 30 minutes to four hours, dough is manually chunked and either hand made or produced on the bakery’s new bread makeup system, which has the capability to produce 1,200 loaves an hour.
Once after passing through a divider on the bread production line, the dough pieces travel through a flourless cone rounder and receive a 20-minute intermediate proofing. Depending on the product, the dough pieces then go through a moulder, curling chain and pressure board before being placed on a peel board or in a pan prior to racking.
After hand scoring, if necessary, the products are baked in one of three double-rack ovens or a five-deck oven before ambient cooling and packaging.
Expanding Product LineTo provide a broader service to its customers, Olde Hearth Bread recently has expanded its pastry production capabilities with a variety of scones, muffins, croissants and other breakfast products. The bakery flatbread has been expanding to stay abreast with demand over the last year or two.
Since opening about 11 years ago, the bakery has been closed only one day a few years back after a hurricane ripped through the Orlando area and forced the city to nearly a standstill.
During the first eight years, Brahm says, meeting the growing demand for the company’s products was a constant challenge. More recently, the addition of the production line and the emphasis on cross-training of its artisan bakers on various tasks have begun to pay off.
“It’s a tough job, especially when they’re working nights, but we now have a solid crew that takes responsibilities,” Brahm says. “At night, they know that I don’t get upset if someone burns some rolls, but if a customer calls me complaining of burnt rolls, that’s another story.”
During the coming year, she adds, the challenge will involve adding a greater amount of automation to the still labor-intensive process.
For Olde Hearth Bread, the age-old tradition of producing high-quality baked goods is simply entering a new era of growth.
Editor’s Note: Go to www.snackandbakery.com to read more features on production equipment.