Mountains of bread rise in Skowhegan

breadCarbo haters be damned. Dozens upon dozens of beautiful loaves fill Skowhegan State Fairgrounds on Saturday and you are invited.

The Maine Artisan Bread Fair is a chance to taste the best bread from master bakers across the country and rub flour-dusted elbows with the wheat elite.

What’s all this hype about local grains? Glad you asked. Homegrown grain helps bakers create an authentic and sustainable product. The more bakeries like Standard Baking Co. in Portland use Maine-grown wheat, the more farmers will start to plant these crops. And millers, the age-old occupation of grinding wheat into flour, will be in demand. Back to the age of Thomas Hardy, only hipper.

Why is this in Skowhegan? This riverfront town is becoming grain central. The Maine Grain Alliance set up shop in a former prison downtown and is milling wheat for bakeries near and far. And the word has spread.

People like Jen Rein trekked to the Kneading Conference, a precursor to the fair, from Vermont via Washington on Thursday to learn from the pros. “The grain economy and wood-fired renaissance is a great analogue for what’s happening across the country in the food world right now,” said the wide-eyed dough girl who plans to open a bakery in Bellingham, WA soon.

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Top bakers like Michael Rhoads (in white above) and Sharon Burns-Leader of Bread Alone in New York gave a crash course on running a wood-fired, high-yield bakery. Students spent two days kneading, punching, shaping and baking 15 different kinds of bread.

What came out of the oven? Fabulous focaccia made with Maine potato dough topped with eggplant, green beans and roasted potatoes. The workshop heroes aim to raise $2,000 for the alliance to keep the staff of life alive in Maine. Do your part and head down or up Route 201 right now and buy up a bushel.

The fair, featuring bread and pastries from scores of vendors, is free and runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Kathleen Pierce

About Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.