The Business of Tasting and Baking Phenomenal Bread
Posted by Bonnie Harry on March 12, 2010
Receiving the "Phenomenal Bread" Windmill at the Great Harvest annual convention is a coveted award among Great Harvest bakery owners. Recipients of this year's 7 awards were Jim and Robin Condie (Clackamas, OR), Ted Beveridge (Atlanta, GA), JP and Michelle MacFadyen (Lafayette, LA), Bonnie Alton (St Paul, MN), Jim Hansman (Lakewood, CO), Dan and Lisa Allen (Medford, OR), and Kyle and Chris Skalisky (Wenatchee, WA). Kyle and Chris held the top spot for quality in a new store.
Bake Phenomenal Bread is the second line of the Great Harvest Mission Statement and has been a core value since the company's beginning in 1977. In a country where most bread is baked in huge facilities or from frozen dough or dry mixes, making bread like you would make it fresh at home with fresh-milled flour is fairly unusual. We often get comments -- "This is BETTER than Mom used to make". Not to discount Mom's great work, but fresh-milled flour and our unique process make the difference.
Our challenge from the home office has been, "How do we help the Great Harvest bakery owners deliver the best, fresh-baked, made-from-scratch whole wheat (and other) breads to their customers?" While making phenomenal bread may seem like a given for a bread company, baking fresh from scratch with raw materials every day is far from a "no-brainer". Using honey and 100% fresh-milled whole wheat flour, with their multitudes of enzymes and individual characteristics, makes this especially challenging.
Several years ago we started a "formal" bread tasting program as a new service to our Great Harvest bakery owners. Loaves of Honey Whole Wheat bread are gathered from each store throughout the year. A group of tasters at the home office in Dillon, MT, taste the bread with critical taste buds and score the breads based on texture, volume, look and of course, the flavor. It's a bit like wine-tasting. Both wine and bread are fermented products with all kinds of nuances of flavors!
Out of the 190 plus loaves tasted, the top 25 scores go into a final round in early November and the top six from that round are the Phenomenal Bread Award winners for stores one year or older. New locations submit a loaf every month and the bakery that scores consistently the highest gets the Phenomenal Bread Award for a new store. All of the results are kept secret until the convention when the awards are announced. It's a hard thing to keep quiet. We get very excited for the bakery owners because we know how hard they work and how much they care about their quality.
Not only has our tasting program proved to be a great way to choose the Phenomenal Bread winners, it's been an excellent way to help owners troubleshoot problems and to help them take their bread to an even higher level. The bread is always good ....but our joint goal is always "phenomenal." In addition to the bread tasting program, we have an excellent bread baking training where owners come to Dillon to learn to bake with no other distractions. In the midst of complexities of running a small business these days, this training is invaluable to assure the adequate knowledge and experience to bake phenomenal bread.
And as far as the tasting we do in Dillon? Sure, it's a tough job as you can see, but someone has to do it!