A Visit to Gerard's Bakery
By Jennifer Rein
Above: Gerard preparing to load the oven for firing.
In Vermont, you expect certain things. Snow. Maple Syrup. Black and white spotty cows. Cheddar.
However. Bread is the thing to really take a bite out of when you’re here.
Burlington and Montpelier co-ops are fully stocked with breads from dozens of micro-bakeries. Whole grain breads, dark, European ryes, crusty baguettes, even gluten free offerings.
As with any place in the country, it seems, bread exists here in a sort of love-hate limbo. People hate how much they love bread. But with all the bakeries that exist in and around Burlington, we can see that they do love it. Maybe it’s because so many Vermonters are so unbelievably active, that any carb consumption is completely negated due to the 12 miles they will run later (but only after skiing that morning), and then doing an extended session of Bikram yoga. ((Cat says, “if that’s not enough, there’s always the calorie loss from the subsequent three-day non-stop whine-to-your- coworkers session about eating too many carbs and never ever enough of the beloved god Protein…”))
During our time here, we’ve toured several bakeries, eaten a disturbingly large amount of bread, and worked at three different bakeries. It’s a bakers dream come true.
This past weekend, we were invited to attend an event put on by Slow Food Vermont, hosted by Gérard Rubaud, of the famed Gérard’s Bread of Tradition, in Westford, VT.
Now, not much needs to be said about the man to those of us who live in Northern Vermont. He’s the much loved or much hated King of the Heap, as far as bakeries around here go. Many articles have been written painting him as the new patron saint of baking, and others, of how quickly apprentices have been run off.
My impression? He’s pure chef. For better or worse. Proud of what he does, and wanting always for perfection. Difficult to work for, I imagine, but full of knowledge. That, and he had a surprisingly sweet smile to our groups’ gamut of questions. He made me miss my grandfather.
Slow Food VT had organized the event, and when we arrived, the table was already set. It was spread with so many beautiful, homemade things– from butter made that morning, to black bean and cilantro spread, to delicious French-Canadian charcuturie. Gérard provided us with loaves upon loaves of delicious bread to eat it all with. His daughter Julie didn’t waste any time helping us late-comers feel ridiculously welcome.
Above: A truly delicious, eclectic spread!
We ate copious amounts of food and drank some delicious wine. We all sat around a huge rectangular table. It reminded me a lot of being in a cloister in Europe. So much of the bakery felt like it had grown into place. Everything was made of bright, roughly hewn wood.
Above: This motif was repeated often in the bakery. I found it completely charming.
After a full meal he showed us his specially designed double-decker, wood-fired oven. It was an extremely clever design- the fire box is scraped into the lower layer through a little trap door, where it looked like the coals continued to burn. Twin flues vented the lower section, and wrapped around the dome of the upper. He told us that it allowed him to bake at a consistent temperature for 6-7 hours in his oven that would hold 42 loaves at a time. He had developed the oven, and even sold a plan or two. The proof box was also built right onto the side of the oven, to take advantage of escaping heat. Waste not, want not. The proof box was adorable, made of brick to look like a little cabin. Cutest proof box I’ve seen yet.
Above: The brigade of firewood, we all help load the oven.
Gerard had us all grab a log and fill the oven up to prepare for firing it. With the seven of us that were over at the oven, clucking with interest, it was only a few minutes later that it was ready to go.
Above: A peek in one of the lovely wooden troughs–full of baby levain!
He took us around the rest of the bakery, which was like a step back in time. When we lived back in Washington State, we volunteered with at Fort Vancouver Nat’l Historic Preserve, the place that instilled in us our love for wood-fired baking. So many of the items we saw in the main bakery were right out of the historic fort. Wooden dough troughs in actual use! It was awesome.
We look forward to getting to know more bakeries, and write more about the ones we are invited to. It’s great to be in a bread mecca. In the meantime, we hope to get more involved with Slow Food Vermont. Attending the event was a treat!
To others living in Vermont, or across the US, if you’re into the slow food movement, don’t hesitate to check out the things this group is doing in your area. Good food will follow!