In my first year on the job as the Frozen and Bread Buyer for the Selby store, which I just wrapped up, my main focus for the bread department was to really get to know the products we carry, feel how bread sales trend season to season, learn what was available from each vendor, and try new things out here and there. Going into year two, my next major goal for the remainder of the calendar year (yikes, is it really mid-August already?) is to finally get around to visiting the local bakeries we stock on the shelves, see the process, and talk with some of the people who work there. Yesterday, I started this venture off with a visit to New French Bakery.
New French was first started up about 19 years ago by Peter Kelsey, and as the company has grown from a small start-up to a large operation that has national contracts, there have been some employees who have stuck around since the earliest days. There are now two facilities, one of which works solely with product that gets frozen and shipped elsewhere in the U.S. and serves as the primary warehouse for raw ingredients. I toured the other location, which does both frozen products for shipment and fresh breads for a surprisingly large number of local restaurant and retail deliveries.
I’d never been on a tour of a bakery before, so this was a pretty crazy experience. It was simply amazing to me the type of engineering mindset that goes into laying our conveyors, mixers, ovens, cooling rooms, packaging machines in such a streamlined layout. Giant mixers (think Kitchenaid stand mixer that you could sit in and *maybe* see over the edge) prep all the dough with the flour getting pumped up from giant storage tanks in the basement—the volume of these just astounded me! Machines size out dough for the product in production—rolls, buns, baguettes, loaves, etc—and into trays, molds, or baking pans the dough goes.
Before it hits the oven, all the dough hits the proofing room for a few hours to rise—the humidity here was high, and the smell of active yeast was amazingly strong. If anything needs special attention (like the small slices that give the tops of artisan breads their special look or things need to be rolled in seeds or grain), the human touch comes into play—machines are not to be trusted with these delicate accents! Finished products are then cooled, sliced if need-be, and packaged to ship out to their destinations. And then the process continues for the next item, around the clock, all year!
Of all the little details I learned during my visit, this is the one I really want to pass on: while New French is focused on large-scale production, they still get almost all of their flour from wheat grown and milled within 150 miles of the bakery—keepin’ it local!
At Mississippi Market, we carry only a tiny fraction of the 700+ varieties and variations in their available production catalog. Some of the more artisan loaves that have been on the shelves for a while include the French baguette (perfect for sandwiches and bruschetta), traditional and whole wheat sourdough rounds, stirato loaves and smaller rolls made of the same dough (a customer favorite to accompany soup for lunch), the ever-so-soft honey whole grain batard (also carried in baguette form), and my favorite, the Italian peasant loaf (this only needs some olive oil, Italian herbs, and a bit of feta to become a meal in itself!). Since becoming the buyer for the Selby store, a number of new items have made appearances: potato dinner rolls, a sesame semolina batard, pretzel buns for both burgers and hoagies, and a weekend-only double raisin rye. Due to customer request, a while back we also started carrying their large sandwich loaves, the same bread our Deli uses.
Interested in trying something we don’t carry? I’ve seen a variety of both sweet and savory baguettes and artisan loafs, buns, and sandwich breads we simply don’t have room to add to our own shelves. Stop in at the 26th Ave. location sometime (the address and hours below), where they offer a wide range of fresh items, a daily soup special, and a small selection of salads and sandwiches. And if you do visit, give a (polite!) shout-out to the second floor, where the excellent Customer Service team sits, answering my questions and getting my orders in the system; say Ben from Mississippi Market sent you, and you might see a hand waving at you from over the balcony!
New French Bakery
2609 26th Ave S.
Minneapolis, MN 55406
Retail hours: 8:30-6 M-F, 8:30-3 on the weekends
Ben Zamora-Weiss is a staff member and blogger for Mississippi Market’s Eat Local Challenge. As mentioned above, you’ll also find him at the Selby store keeping the shelves stocked with the best locally baked breads we can find.