NEW ORLEANS — Bellegarde Bakery began baking bread in New Orleans on St. Joseph’s Day in 2013 and is named after the very first bakery in Louisiana, which opened in 1722. Graison Gill, owner of Bellegarde Bakery, has baked professionally for seven years, training at the San Francisco Baking Institute under Michel Suas and Frank Sally. Graison’s passion for bread stems from the craft’s intricacies and interactions with the primordial elements of fire, water and fermentation.
With one of the only stone flour mills between Asheville, N.C., and Arizona, Bellegarde actively preserves the wholesome properties of wheat by stone milling all whole grain flours in-house, providing high quality product while preserving the dietary quality of whole grains like wheat, corn, rye and rice. Today, Bellegarde is a wholesale bakery providing fresh flour and bread to more than 100 restaurants and markets in Louisiana, including James Beard nominees and winners Alon Shaya (provides pita dough daily for Saba), Nina Compton (Compere Lapin) and Justin Devillier (La Petit Grocery).
To learn more about this innovative bakery, we sat down with one of Bellegarde’s head bakers, Morgan Angelle. In 2003, she graduated from the Culinary Institute of New Orleans — just weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit the city — and moved to Acadiana where she worked as a private chef. After opening a pizzeria in 2010 and developing a strong love for pizza, she moved back to New Orleans to work with Chef Alon Shaya at Domenica and Pizza Domenica. Shaya introduced Angelle to Gill and Bellegarde Bakery. That relationship grew into a friendship and mentorship that would ultimately take her from being a chef to a baker, where she has been working since.
As a baker, what do you consider to be the key advantages of using fresh milled flour?
Like any good ingredient, flour is best when it is at peak freshness. Within 48 hours of milling, our grains become bread headed out the door to customers. Because we know who grew, harvested, shipped and milled our flours, we have the special advantage of knowing the ins and outs of our products that would not be possible without our own mill.
What troubleshooting tips might you suggest?
The miller and the baker must work hand in hand. As a baker consistently trying to grow in skill and knowledge, I expect the miller to do the same. We are creating a new product every time we get the mill rolling. You’ve got to be flexible and game-plan for experimentation. Also, there could be extra time spent sifting or bolting if necessary. It really is like taking the long way around but ultimately, I think worth it.
What type of stone mill does your bakery use?
Our mill is a 40-inch granite stone mill made by New American Stone Mills. We mill between 300 to 500 lbs of grain a day.
What are your thoughts on preferred extraction rates for milled flour?
Generally, I think 100% extraction is my goal, but not every grain mill is the same or performs the same when baked. We can mill a very fine flour from a hard white wheat at 100% extraction that will be consistent every time. However, that principle does not apply to a softer berry like rye or Red Fife. So, I would say it all depends on the grain and the application of it.
How much bread are you producing in a typical week?
We are producing nearly 5,000 loaves a week. We produce six varieties consistently with the top sellers being our Country and Baguette.
What types of grains are you milling, and how do you source them?
It is so important to source grains and ingredients as local as possible — for the consumer and the grower. The grocery store aisles are filled with options of products we know little to nothing about. Everyone should have the option of tracing each ingredient in their fresh loaf of bread back to its origins the same way you might a fresh Ruston peach or a fresh Gulf shrimp.
Currently we are milling six varieties of grain. In most cases we source them by having direct relationships with the farmers. In others, we trust our milling partners like Barton Springs Mill in Austin, Texas, to be our link to the farmers. We purchase grains from multiple growers in Texas, Alabama, Kansas and South Carolina.
How involved are you in working directly with grain farmers to evaluate the quality of the wheat?
I always like to know what is out there and what our most trusted farmers are growing and why. We have great connections to farmers and co-ops throughout the country. I learn something new every time to communicate with a grower or another miller.
What is your current job and responsibilities?
I am a baker and the bakery manager here at Bellegarde. I oversee all production and daily life here at the bakery including sourcing grain. I also teach our pizza and bread classes.
What are your signature techniques or greatest skills?
I am happiest when I’m mixing. That’s my area of expertise. It’s the most challenging and I love a challenge. Here at Bellegarde we have the best ingredients to use as building blocks. I love trying new formulas and methods and tweaking and tracking my progress.
What are your favorite products to make?
Our classic sourdough country bread is my favorite. Because when it’s just right it’s the most satisfying feeling.
What do you love about your job?
Everything, but I’ll just focus on my favorite thing. I love the process. With every mix, shape, and bake you get chance to evaluate, learn, and improve.
What are your favorite ingredients to work with?
Right now, I’m digging the multiple varieties of rye we are milling — both grown in Texas. The Danko Rye has been especially great.
What has been the customer acceptance?
We see and hear directly from our customers daily just how much they want the type of bread we bake. You might think it would be a gospel we have to preach to convert people. But the truth is consumers want better bread and grains. New Orleans is a pretty small community with a thriving and close-knit restaurant industry that has been very supportive.