One of the perks of our “wandering minstrel” lifestyle is the opportunities we get to visit with interesting people we meet along the way. We both love exploring, so we really try to make sure to take the time to stop if something catches our eye. We seized one such opportunity while working in Michigan’s upper Peninsula near the town of Paradise last summer. We were on our way to Munising, and were just south of the Tahquamenon Falls on M-123, when a sign caught our eye: North Star Brick Oven Bakery. We have quite an appreciation for artisan breads, and the place looked so inviting back there off the road nestled against the treeline.
We parked the car, stepped inside and were greeted by Joanne Behm. She and her husband, Paul, run the bakery. They are a friendly couple and conversation was easy. Soon we were touring the little bakery and gift shop and learning about life as artisan bread bakers.
The Behms pride themselves on the quality of the breads they make and the ingredients they use. Their breads are leavened using natural starters, and some of their breads are made with a yeast that is indigenous to the upper peninsula. In addition, they use clean, clear well water and don’t add any preservatives or chemicals.
We were surprised to learn there’s no electricity to the area in which they run their business, so Joanne and Paul have become very creative about how to make things work pretty much off the grid. For instance, they mill their organically grown wheat by hand using a 50- year-old vintage hand-cranked mill! Shari and I have an affinity for the use of vintage tools and processes, so that was right up our alley! In fact, we had fun talking about how we have an antique hand-cranked bread making machine. It was manufactured by Frary and Clark around 1900 and can make up to six loaves at a time! We also grind our coffee beans with an antique coffee mill. So our love of the use of traditional methods was something we had in common.
Joanne and Paul’s appreciation of traditional methods also extends to the way they bake. Paul designed and built the brick oven they use for baking their breads. Before the loaves are put in, the oven is heated by a hardwood fire. When the oven reaches the proper temperature for baking, the coals are raked out, and in go the loaves. The firebrick retains the heat while the bread bakes, and out come unique beautifully crafted and baked breads. On the day we went they had several kinds from which to choose. Hmmm…apple oat, parmesian oregano, cheddar onion, cracked wheat, or country harvest? We went with a fresh loaf of sourdough.
We ended our visit back in the front room where we spent some time perusing the gifts and handcrafted items for sale which were displayed against rustic appointments that included an antique stove. Shari found a couple of nicely scented soy candles she wanted to buy. With our purchases complete we said goodbye to Joanne and Paul. We continued on our way, all the while looking forward to the toasted slices of sourdough bread with butter we‘d be eating later, and feeling grateful for “stops along the way.” -Wyatt