“This flour has a fattier feel because the germ is in there,” he says. “It smells like fresh grain.”
Three years ago, Heyn took the unusual path from baker to miller when he built his first granite stone mill, constructed with granite (the oldest rock on Earth) straight out of the stone quarries in nearby Barre, Vermont. His bakery is in Elmore, billed as the “beauty spot of Vermont,” surrounded by rolling hills of forests, agricultural land and 219-acre lake.
Now he has two jobs. He and Blair bake 600 loaves of bread every day for wholesale accounts (mostly markets and co-ops) within a 50-mile radius. On the side, Heyn constructs 26-, 40- and 48-inch stone mills and installs these in retail and wholesale bakeries across the country. He’s been to Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Rogers, Arkansas, where he’d just returned from when I visited his place in mid-December.
“I built 17 stone mills this year,” Heyn says. “This business is growing really fast, and I think there’s a lot of potential. I really think there are enough areas of the market that are looking for this. In January, I’m putting in a stone mill for a pasta company.”
And to think just 14 years ago the couple began their lives as bakers after buying their small bakery in Elmore. “You never know,” Blair exclaims. “What’s happening now is shocking for us.”
With Andrew’s new job comes new tools: a diamond-blade angle grinder for cutting grooves to each client’s specifications and a pneumatic air hammer “to break through the smooth surface of the stone to make it like sandpaper. The roughness is what does the grinding.”
They custom built their original stone mill with the help of friends Brad Robertson of Iron Art in Stowe, Vermont, and Fulton Forde of Boulted Bread in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The 36-inch, 700-pound pink granite stones were cut by Meadows Mills in North Carolina. The millstones run horizontally at a relatively slow 230 rpms, which keeps the flour cool to retain flavor and nutrition.
This mill is a prototype for the 40-inch mills from Heyn’s newest venture, New American Stone Mills. This is the business that they believe offers a lot of promise for the future.
Andrew marvels at the experience of using local grains and firmly believes it sets their bakery apart. “Wheat is a seed in a storage state. Add water, and you can sprout it. When you crush it, the seed has released its energy, and when you use it fresh, you capture that before it’s gone. In these varieties, the taste is more intense.”
Andrew and Blair also depend on natural sourdough or small amounts of yeast in their breads. They maintain the tradition of using long fermentation to improve overall flavor and quality. Each loaf is handmade and attended to from start to finish — a 16-hour process.
“Most of what we use is 12% protein or under,” Heyn says. “We used to temper our wheat, tempering it with 2-3% water for 12 hours. When we moved up to bigger granite stones for milling, we don’t need to temper grain.”
After five years of hard work starting their bakery, their original wood-fired oven began showing signs of age, so the couple enlisted William Davenport of Turtlerock Masonry Heat to design and build a new oven. The result is a dramatic 6-foot-wide, 10-foot-deep oven that uses a mechanical loader, burns less firewood and can easily bake 600 loaves from a single firing.
They added a mechanical loader to improve efficiency (“Yesterday, we baked 600 loaves in 4 hours, 50 minutes — that’s a record,” Blair says), and they start each baking cycle by filling the oven with sheet trays of water-soaked towels for steam.
“I can now vent so much steam that we are able to get a depth of caramelization,” she adds.
They wanted to avoid the reputation of wood-fired bread as being “dense and pale,” and they successfully produce wonderful breads with open crumb structure and tons of flavor.
“We wanted the historical tradition and pair it with modern sensibility and technology,” Heyn says. “Having the mechanical loader allows us to have higher steam retention.”
There are three doors to the oven, and behind each the baking breads are at different levels of doneness. “It’s a very efficient bake,” Blair says, “because you are always in rotation.”
The irony is that, much like the breads baking in the ovens every day at Elmore Mountain Bread, the lives of these two bakery owners are always in rotation. Their daily rituals have become more complex in the past few years, and they love every minute.
“If we can prove the model works here, it can happen anywhere,” Blair says with great enthusiasm.