Bellegarde to open new bakery -- delayed by Barry -- and a New Orleans window to old-world bread
JUL 15, 2019 - 9:01 AM
What has always set this New Orleans bakery apart, though, is what’s beneath the surface — its underlying old world process.
Now Bellegarde has a new home where it can sell bread direct and make that process plainly clear.
On Saturday (July 20), Bellegarde plans to officially open its new bakery at 8300 Apple St. (note: an earlier grand opening scheduled for July 13 was rescheduled due to a storm threat).
It’s a tucked-away location in the Leonidas neighborhood, near the intersection of Claiborne and Carrollton avenues. It’s also a vastly more accessible gateway for the bakery.
From its start in 2012, Bellegarde has been a production bakery, supplying markets and restaurants. The new home means it has its own retail space for the first time. It’s a small shop, with a walk-up counter, breads and fresh flour on display and basic coffee on offer (sourced from local roaster Congregation, drip brewed, served in one size only).
“Fundamentally nothing is changing about us or what we do except you can come to us now,” said Bellegarde founder Graison Gill. “You can get your bread, have a cup of coffee and see the bakery at work.”
Bellegarde is part of a revival of local bakeries and great bread around New Orleans. The heart of this operation is a stone mill, which grinds whole grains into flours and meals. This is blended with other organic flours for the bakery’s loaves, and it makes Bellegarde unique in the region.
The mill runs on electricity, but otherwise follows a principle reaching back thousands of years to stone mills powered by water or animals. The spinning stone breaks the grain and mashes together all the fats, acids, protein and minerals of the entire wheat berry.
The resulting flour is speckled, aromatic, slightly pungent and, even raw, already tastes a bit like bread, marking a stark contrast to standard commercial flours designed to be nonperishable.
The new bakery adds a second stone mill, doubling Bellegarde’s milling capacity. Aimee Helms, the bakery’s miller, traveled to Vermont to select the granite for the stone and “dress it,” the processing of carving grooves and roughing its surface to create its grinding grit.
Walking through his new bakery, Gill sketched out a baking approach that is just as hands-on.
Old world, new frame
This new Bellegarde bakery was developed in a onetime Knights of Columbus hall, a long, window-lined building with a Spanish mission façade and a mix of vintage timbers and fresh masonry inside. The building seems an apt frame for the bakery, melding old and new.
Gill is an intense, often fiery advocate for transparency in sourcing and ingredients. To him, what goes into bread is as worthy of consideration as the provenance of wine grapes, oysters or heirloom produce. He believes shorter, more local supply lines not only makes a better product but brings greater economic value to all players.
He and his bakers visit the wheat fields in Oklahoma growing some of their grains and the Texas olive orchards supplying their olive oil.
“It’s the same reason you take a chef fishing,” said Gill. “It’s to understand ingredient, where it comes from and who produced it. In the bakery, it’s the same idea refracted in different ingredients.”
The new bakery’s linear layout, designed for efficiency, feels like a physical manifestation of this idea and makes its operation easy to follow at a glance.
Giant canvas sacks of whole grain and pallets of flour arrive at one door, fresh loaves in brown paper bags go out the other, with people grinding flour, making dough, proofing and shaping and finally baking in between.
The retail counter is intended to be a direct outlet for customers, but it’s not a bakery cafe with a full menu. It's about bread and flours from the mill for home bakers.
The retail counter will also be a showcase for more of the offbeat and creative breads that individual bakers take on, using different grains or techniques. These are breads that wouldn’t necessarily fit the needs of wholesale retail clients. A benne seed fougasse loaf could be in rotation one month, a spelt sourdough the next.
“We’ll have the ability to show people the really unique stuff we do here,” said Gill.
Soon, different specialty items like pizza and croissants will join the offerings, though likely as specials for certain days. Gill wants to start producing pasta from stone ground wheat, too.
The new space opens more opportunities for the tours and classes Bellegarde has periodically held in the past. Marc Vetri, an acclaimed Philadelphia chef and another champion of stone milled flours, will host a class in August (see details below).
While the scale and capacity of Bellegarde is making a big stride with the new bakery, Gill said his focus remains the same.
“This place is not about us, it’s about the farmers and the ingredients and the mill,” he said.
8300 Apple St., (504) 827-0008
Grand opening: July 20, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., tours and public open house 3-5 p.m.
Regular hours: Tue.-Sat., 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Note: cards only, no cash accepted
Upcoming classes (tickets required):
July 28: pizza class with Morgan Angelle of Bellegarde.
Aug. 14: bread and pizza with Marc Vetri of Amis Trattoria, Pizzeria Vetri and Bar Amis in Philadelphia and baker Claire Kopp McWilliams.
Details at bellegardebakery.com/shop
Note: this story has been edited to update the planned grand opening date, which was rescheduled due to a storm threat