Bellegarde Bakery came on the scene recently as these things are measured in New Orleans. Graison Gill started it in 2013, making uncompromising loaves of bread from freshly milled flour and grains. Gill comes off to some as a John the Baptist sort, crying out in the wilderness about the virtues of baking by hand with artisanal ingredients.
I don’t know Gill, but I know his bread is outstanding and that’s what matters to me. I’ve been buying Bellegarde loaves – baguettes and epi – for quite a while at Whole Foods and Rouse’s. I’ve served their bread when I’ve cooked for people and to be honest sometimes a few slices of toasted baguette with some really good butter were the best part of those meals.
Bread is not as important to us today as it once was. An increase in the price of bread has sparked riots in Europe, but in this country most of the bread we consume is mass-produced dreck. I say that as someone who has a loaf of Rouse’s whole wheat bread sitting on a shelf in my kitchen.
Our local bread, “French bread,” is another story. It’s not as cheap as the mass-produced stuff, but it’s not going to break the bank, either. Then there are the loaves put out by Vietnamese bakeries – three poor boy-sized loaves for a dollar at Hong Kong Market and around the same price everywhere else they’re sold.
I bought a loaf of spelt brioche at Bellegarde this afternoon for $9.25 with tax. I am not rolling in filthy lucre but I am capable of rationalizing a purchase of this nature in two ways. First, I am writing about Bellegarde and thus I had to sample things. Second, my kids are going to freaking love this bread because it is super awesome.
My daughter recently told me that her grandfather, my father, made the best grilled cheese ever. Well, old man, let’s see if you can compete with the spelt brioche grilled cheese I have coming. I guess that’s a third reason for my purchase, which, again, I do not regret in the least.
This brioche was one of the breads on offer at Bellegarde’s retail location that aren’t available at retail markets. They’re also selling pastas made from durum and red wheats, and while I have not sampled those I intend to do so. I have not had great luck with “whole wheat” pastas, but if somebody’s going to pull it off, I’m betting on Bellegarde. There is “merch,” too and while I’m sure it’s very nice I prefer to express my support for Bellegarde by occasionally buying their products rather than donning a Bellegarde-branded apron. To be fair, I rarely where aprons, branded or not.
It is futile to spend time or energy longing for the days when we had bakeries on every corner and butcher shops down the block and when unpasteurized whole-fat milk was delivered to our doorstep. Those days are gone and they’re not coming back. But it is very nice that Bellegarde has opened a retail shop on Apple street, about two blocks on the lake side of Claiborne and three blocks on the Metairie side of Carrollton.
It is not a location you will stumble upon if you are simply wandering around New Orleans looking for happy times. It is out of the way, but the neighborhood is nice and Bellegarde is not the sort of place that would benefit from tourists walking by anyway.
It is a great place to buy bread and other products that involve grain, however, and having made a goddamn outstanding grilled cheese using their spelt brioche loaf, I will be going back for more.