Grain of Truth
By Maria Pilar Clark
Bread from French Meadow Bakery is crafted from natural ingredients, with organic stone-ground grains, unrefined Celtic sea salt and purified water among them. Each slice eats like a wholesome meal that will stave off hunger and sustain blood sugar levels at the same time.
Although organic health food seems to be just making its trendy culinary debut, French Meadow Bakery long has been its opening act for more than 20 years.
Since 1985, the Minneapolis, Minn.-based company has claimed a spot on the proverbial bread-baking map by producing honest-to-goodness organic yeast-free breads that cater to consumers with specific dietary needs or food allergies — or those who simply want to nourish themselves with Mother Nature’s finest.
Lynn Gordon, creator and founder of French Meadow bakery, is a dyed-in-the-wool health devotee and a certified macrobiotic teacher who, prior to diving headlong into the baking industry, enlightened her students with a teaching emphasis on the healing nature of whole foods.
Over time, students in her macrobiotic cooking and lifestyle classes found that they shared a common ail with Gordon — difficulty digesting bread containing yeast — and urged the burgeoning chef to bake her own commercial yeast-free bread because none was available in the mainstream Minneapolis health food market.
Some time-consuming test bakes later, Gordon had learned to bake her bread the “old way.”
“I was more sensitive to the natural bread-making process because using starters made temperamental bread,” explains Gordon. “But I wouldn’t bake it any other way.”
French Meadow was a natural evolution, and has been the longest-standing certified organic organization since its first year of business.
At the time of French Meadow’s founding, many varieties of bread were available to consumers, but according to Gordon, only two small bakeries in the entire country were producing the then niche-bread varieties — yeast-free, phytic acid-free naturally leavened loaves.
“These breads are even tolerated by those with wheat sensitivities, due to the increased absorption and digestion of nutrients and lack of phytic and trypsin inhibitors,” notes Gordon. “The bread acts similarly to an acidophilus culture, increasing the health of the flora in the intestines.”
Commercial bread from French Meadow is made from natural organic ingredients with stone-ground grains, sprouted grains, unrefined Celtic sea salt and purified water among them. In addition, all of the bread is yeast-free, dairy-free and oil-free, as well as free of all sweeteners, making it the most appealing option to not only ingredient-sensitive consumers, but also those who are looking for ways to fuel their bodies in a 100% natural way.
“Our goal is to bake the most natural and exceptionally nutritious breads available anywhere,” Gordon notes. “French Meadow is the longest continuously certified organic bakery in the country and is committed to using only non-GMO ingredients to create breads that complement a healthy lifestyle.”
Although its breads are organic, French Meadow doesn’t cater only to health-nuts and consumers with particular dietary needs. On the contrary, according to Gordon, its products have gained fame for their unique taste, texture and adaptability, having been named twice by Bon Appetit magazine as one of the 10 best United States-based bread bakeries in 1991 and 1993.
French Meadow’s retail café, which is located on Lyndale Avenue South in Minneapolis and adjoined to the main bakery, is often jam-packed every day with a diverse range of customers — families, vegetarians, vegans and “regular” Joe-Schmoe eaters — intent on sampling what Gordon calls “healthy Western food that all ages like.”
“I didn’t plan for such success,” Gordon recalls. “At every turn, I removed myself and listened to the customers. Now the café is a neighborhood institution.”
According to Gordon, the array of menu items, including everything from Green Curry Noodles to a Grilled Portobello Mushroom Sandwich with warm goat cheese and roasted red peppers served on French Meadow’s hearty artisan bread, “is one-quarter vegetarian and vegan [fare] eliminating dairy and eggs, three-quarters mainstream gourmet [fare] for taste and health, and one eighth of the desserts are vegan made with all organic sugar and flour.”
French Meadow’s food definitely appeals to all palates. In fact, the bakery’s products have reached such star status that a second retail café recently was opened in April at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, standing across from Gate F4. Gordon recently announced that the company will be opening a second, larger retail café in the main terminal of the airport. In addition, Indianapolis-based Sunflower Market, which Gordon notes is a cross between a Whole Foods Market and a Trader Joe’s Neighborhood Grocery Store, will be featuring a French Meadow Bakery & Café within its store.
Get a Loaf of This
Bread-making at French Meadow is more of an art than a science, Gordon notes. The loaves are crafted with attention to detail and a passion for creating naturally wholesome holistic products. In fact, Gordon recently was recognized for her long-standing efforts and named Minnesota’s Small Business Person of the Year, an annual award given by the Minnesota district office of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). This is the first award to be bestowed to a business in the natural food industry in Minnesota.
Although Gordon has cooked up various signature innovations, the bakery primarily focuses on two key points — wellness and ecology — as a means to not only promote wellness of mind and body, but also emphasize the importance of the inherent human connection with the earth. According to French Meadow’s mission statement, “Being well means more than simply not having a headache; it means all systems — physiological and psychological — working together in harmony.”
Not only that, but the company believes that good eating habits promote well-being, good health and good feelings. In terms of ecology, French Meadow elaborates on its ties with the earth.
“Bread boldly symbolizes our intimate connection with the earth,” its mission statement says. “Grains, salt and pure water — bread’s key constituents. Each is created by earth’s vital processes.”
In other words, the company notes that the relationship people have with the earth, which provides the resources we use to create whole grain bread, is critical but simple in nature.
“Elements of the earth become elements of bread, and finally they become elements of our bodies,” the mission statement adds. “This is the basis for using only organic ingredients in French Meadow’s whole grain breads.”
French Meadow bakes a range of award-winning, yeast-free, certified organic breads, garlic breads, bagels, tortillas and pizza crusts — some of which also are wheat-free — that can be found nationally and can even be enjoyed internationally by mail.
Among the bakery’s signature offerings are four functional breads that also are sprouted: Men’s Bread, Woman’s Bread, Healthy Hemp Sprouted Bread and Health Seed Spelt Bread.
Men’s Bread, which contains pumpkin seeds and flaxseed, was created for supporting healthy heart functions and prostate health. Woman’s Bread contains 32 mg of soy isoflavones per slice, which act as an essential all-natural support through women’s changing needs throughout pre-menstrual syndrome, menopause and postmenopausal years. According to Gordon, similar products only contain 6-12 mg of soy isoflavones per serving, raising the French Meadow brand head and shoulders above the rest. Healthy Hemp Sprouted Bread is a natural source of rich plant nutrients, including fiber, protein and omega 3 and 6. Meanwhile, Health Seed Spelt Bread was born from customer requests for a wheat alternative version of a meal replacement bar, and is a high-protein, high-fiber, balanced alternative. Packed with pumpkin and sunflower seeds, sprouted legumes and grains, Health Seed packs a punch of energy and is also rich in omega 3 and 6.
Other popular good-for-you products include Fat Flush Sprouted Tortillas, Brown Rice Bread, Sprouted Whole Wheat Bread, 100% Kamut Bread, 100% Rye with Flaxseed, Cinnamon Raisin bagels and even flourless 10-Grain Parmesan & Garlic Texas Toast.
A customer favorite, Gordon says, is the Sprouted Bagel with Ezekiel 4:9 Grains, which is appropriately named after the Bible verse that says: “Take also unto thee wheat and barley and beans and lentils and millet and spelt and put them into one vessel and make bread of it.”
Bread is serious business at French Meadow, and Gordon’s natural take on the staff of life is revolutionizing the baking industry.
Gordon recently unveiled her latest product at the National Food Expo in Washington, D.C., in September. The Healthy Hemp Gluten-Free Tortilla is a 100% functional product that contains no nutraceuticals and is seed-based and completely wheat and gluten free.
“Customers are asking for more products, and this was more than I expected nutritionally,” Gordon says. “It’s a super food.”
Not only is the new tortilla high in protein and fiber, but it also contains no trans fats and packs a whopping 2,500 mg. of omega 3 and 4,900 mg. of omega 6 per serving.
“The best thing is that the omega comes from a vegan source like tahini [sesame], sunflower, pumpkin and hemp seeds, not a fish source, so it’s a very complete, functional food,” Gordon explains. “[While] fish is a good source of omega 3, it requires distilling, and there is a mercury issue, and our breads are vegan, so we opted not to use the liquid fish omegas.”
Additionally, the new tortilla provides 85% potassium and 132 mg. of calcium, which is 15% of the daily recommended amount. The Healthy Hemp tortilla is slated to be released nationally in 2006.
Observing production at the 24,000-sq.-ft. French Meadow Bakery is like attending an acoustic performance — bread is handled and baked in its natural state — uninhibited, primitive and earthy.
Ingredients arrive every Tuesday through Thursday, and the plant’s 1,800-sq.-ft. Ingredient Handling Area has about 35-40 pallets holding different kinds of flour, seeds and grains at all times. Organic and non-organic ingredients are separated and labeled accordingly.
The Ingredient Handling Area also contains a 3,000-sq.-ft. Packaging Area, where breads are packaged by hand, and 1,400-sq.-ft. of freezer space where packaged bread is cooled at 0-10°F for 12 hours. The plant is certified kosher and organic with no yeast being used in any of French Meadow’s array of products.
Mothers and leavens are kept in chilled buckets in the plant’s temperature controlled “Starter Room,” with each bucket containing its own type of dough. Because the room also can act as a cooler, bread often is proofed overnight there. When the dough is ready to be mixed, it enters a 400-lb. mixer that blends about 250 lb. of flour and 150 lb. of water for varied times, depending on the season, humidity and moisture in the grains for spelt bread products.
“Amounts can differ with functional bread products,” says Mike Simon, production manager. “It could be up to 100 lb. of flour with a sprout mix, flour and water.”
Next, dough is dumped onto a long wooden work table and divided into 20 pieces from a 40-lb. slab. Individual pieces are then placed onto oiled boards and then enter an inverted rounder.
More oiled boards are introduced for particular pieces of dough that will roll through a moulder, and if seeds are required, the dough rolls through a water bath, and then the seeds are applied by hand.
As many as 240 loaves are placed into carts, which are rolled into a 12-cart proofbox for one hour at 80-100°F.
A second proofbox is mainly used for quick bread, although according to Simon, it also can act as a holding tank for bread products. It is covered with canvas to avoid drying out product.
Most of the bread is baked for 45-55 minutes at 325-350°F. Then loaves are moved to cooling racks for 1-1.5 hours until the product core has reached about 80-90°F. Once cooled, bread is moved to the freezer area for an hour at a temperature of 40-50°F. Afterward, bread is sliced and wrapped, cased and then frozen again.
A second 10,000-sq.-ft. plant in Eagan, Minn. — Organic Concepts LLC, a division of French Meadow Bakery — bakes up the bakery’s trademark rustic organic breads (only those sold in French Meadow’s retail cafés) and organic tortillas, but also turns out an array of both organic and non-organic pastries, cookies, muffins, scones, croissants, loaf cakes, cinnamon rolls, cheesecakes and cakes.
Ingredients are stored in the plant’s 9,000-sq.-ft. ingredient storage area and service the bakery’s seven production lines.
According to Nick McCrery, managing partner, the facility is divided into two prep areas — the Pastry Area and the Bread Makeup Area — with some products being baked exclusively for French Meadow and others solely for its retail customers.
The 500-sq.-ft. Pastry Area bakes cakes that will be sold at both of French Meadow’s retail cafés and runs seven days a week with three shifts. The first shift, the Dough Crew, assembles and mixes ingredients for muffin, loaf cake and scone production. The second shift handles all of the bread making processes, while the third shift is in charge of baking off pastries.
The Bread Makeup Area assembles and produces organic pan bread, rustic artisan bread and organic sprouted — whole grains are soaked in water until they expand — bread. Varieties of organic sprouted bread under the Organic Concepts’ Loaves & Fishes label include Sprouted Cinnamon & Raisin with Ezekiel grains, sprouted and flourless 16 Grain, sprouted and flourless Sesame Wheat with Ezekiel grains, and sprouted and flourless hamburger buns, hot dogs buns, rolls and bagels. Its Valley Mill label features organic Cinnamon Swirl, Whole Wheat, Multi-Grain and Rye. Artisan bread products include organic baguettes, Sourdough pan levains, Raisin Pecan, Ahaheim Pepper and Ciabatta.
Gordon notes that the Organic Concepts flourless and sprouted bread products are sought by those consumers who have wheat sensitivities and food allergies. The bread is available under the Loaves & Fishes label and is also a private label product.
For sprouted bread, seeds are ground and mixed in a 225-lb. mixer. Once mixed, the dough is divided into 20 pieces with a hydraulic divider. The dough pieces then are rounded and moulded before resting at room temperature. The dough pieces then are placed in pans and proofed for one hour at 90°F before they are baked in one of four double-rack ovens, at 375°F for 45 minutes. Approximately 800 loaves can be baked at one time. Once baked, the loaves cool for two hours and then are sliced and packaged.
Tortilla production also takes place in the bread makeup area. 200 lb. of tortilla ingredients are mixed for 15 minutes and then are deposited into a hopper, chunked, divided and rounded.
After entering an overhead proofer, the tortillas are dropped onto a hot press, then travel through a conveyor oven for one minute at 100°F. The tortillas then pass through a cooling conveyor for 10 minutes and are packaged.
French Meadow is a seasoned veteran of the organic health food stage, but has no plans to scale back on its product innovation anytime soon. Its fans are out there, clamoring for healthy organic yeast-free, sprouted bread products and cheering on French Meadow’s own brand of health and wellness. SF&WB
At a Glance
Company: French Meadow Bakery & Café
Location: Minneapolis, Minn.
Plant Size: 24,000 sq. ft. (19,000 sq. ft. bakery and 5,000 sq. ft. café)
No. of Employees: 111
Sales: $8 million wholesale
Products: Woman’s Bread, Healthy Hemp Sprouted Bread, Men’s Bread, Brown Rice Bread, Peasant Rolls, Sourdough French Bread, Sprouted Whole Wheat Bread, Summer Bread, Sunflower & Flax Bread, Country Sourdough Pizza Crusts, Garlic Sourdough Bread, Fat Flush Sprouted Tortillas, Sourdough bagels, Sprouted with Ezekiel 4:9 Grains bagels and Sprouted Wheat, Raisin and Cinnamon bagels. Health Seed Spelt Bread, Spelt Bread, White Spelt Bread, Spelt Cinnamon Raisin Bread, 100% Rye – European Sourdough, Spelt Bread with Wild Rice, Health Seed 100% Rye Bread, 100% Rye with Flaxseed Bread, 100% Rye — Salt Free, 100% Rye with Sunflower Seeds, 100% Rye with Whole Grain, 100% Kamut Bread, Spelt Pizza Crusts, Spelt Garlic Texas Toast and Healthy Hemp Gluten-Free tortillas.
Brands: French Meadow, Loaves & Fishes, Organic Mills, private label.
Web site: www.organicbread.com
Company Division: Organic Concepts LLC
Location: Eagan, Minn.
Plant Size: 10,000 sq. ft.
Products: Organic artisan and pan bread, organic tortillas, pastries, cookies, muffins, scones, croissants, loaf cakes, cinnamon rolls, cheesecakes and cakes — both organic and non-organic.
President: Lynn Gordon
Vice President: Steve Shapiro
Managing Partner (Eagan): Nick McCrery
Production Mgr: Mike Simon