Driving across the country in the Upper Peninsula, it’s easy to get lost in paved (and not paved) roads lined with pine trees and over-grown greenery. It’s far from urban living. The occasional home or building you pass by is noticed, but doesn’t necessarily jump out at you or scream “look at me, stop here!” Such is the case with North Star Brick Oven Bakery. It sits humbly about 13 miles north of Newberry, and may easily get overlooked to the common passer-by. But those who know it’s there and are familiar with the local treasure are certainly pleased with its location.
The owners, Joanne and Paul Behm, have been perfecting their sourdough hearth bread recipe for years. In fact, all they bake is sourdough bread; in several varieties derived of an ‘Alaskan Mother’ from 1956. The selections are subject to change; such as the “red and white” made of unbleached flour, cranberries, ‘St. Joe’s maple syrup,’ well water and sea salt, aptly crafted for the fourth of July. They are quick to explain the health benefits of sourdough and share any information they know about the process and method about baking it into loaves.
Most bread these days is made with baker’s yeast. North Star Brick Oven Bakery makes their bread the traditional way. That means their sourdough contains microflora, a probiotic which aids in digestion and inhibits bad bacterial growth. And sourdough microflora contains all of the amino acids of most plant proteins without the protein that forms gluten; so even those with gluten intolerances can often eat traditional sourdough bread (not those found at most supermarkets). There are many other health benefits from eating naturally fermented bread too, such as providing vitamins B1 through B6 from lactobacillus and B12 vitamins from wild yeast.
Joanne was in the middle of the “Rock and Roll” stage of the process when I arrived. She was cutting into portions, a large dough of her 12 grain variety into round “rocks” before she “rolled” them into more oblong loaf shapes to proof.
She had her regular white sourdough loaves already proofing; a technique that depends on the temperature of the bakery and the moisture in the air. It’s a science really that Joann has perfected from years of practice. This day for instance she did not need to cover the loaves with a sheet of plastic. There was enough heat in the bakery, and she didn’t want it to proof too fast. In fact, this stage of the process should take about 3 hours.
The loaves are baked in a wood-fired brick oven; which Paul had just cleaned. It’s a nostalgic and hands-on approach avoided by mass producers. And a personal touch appreciated by their customers. The result is an artisan, hand-crafted edible art. And Joanne and Paul are eager to share. In fact, they have dried “starters’ available for anyone wanting to start their own sour dough bread, and a wealth of information for a novice like me to get started.
The North Star Brick Oven Bakery is located at 19639 M-123, Newberry, MI and worth the visit! (They also have the cutest little bags to take your bread home!)
But if you can’t make it there, do yourself a favor and find a local sourdough bakery so you can start reaping the benefits, Joanne and Paul would want you to. Or if your feeling spunky… make your own!