The First Wood-Fired Ovens
Wood-fired, clay ovens are an ancient tradition stemming from community bread ovens of the old world. It is widely believed that stone/earthen ovens produce the best bread because of the almost magical transformation that happens from a wood fire. The result of this transformation is bread with a superior crust and tender crumb that can only be found from these masonry style ovens.
Traditionally, such ovens were centrally placed in each
The Evolution of the American Flatbread Oven
George Schenk had these principles of integrity and community in mind when he created his own clay oven, referencing communal ovens he found in the Haute Savoie region of France, the Quebec wood fired ovens that exist north of Vermont, and techniques gathererd from his grandmother and his experiences as a Boy Scout.
George built his first oven of field stone in his backyard. Since it didn’t have a dome, he knew it wouldn’t be capable of baking a loaf of bread so he attempted to make a flatbread. The result was surprisingly tasty, and George was encouraged to continue exploring this method of cooking.
The next oven incarnation more closely resembled the design we use today, with a front-facing door and earthen dome. The result was a oven that uses three important heat sources: conductive, convective, and luminary heat. Together, these three heat sources produce a profoundly unique flatbread with a balance of crispness and tender chewiness at the same time.
To this day today, we continue to bake in our original American Flatbread oven at Lareau Farm, built in 1991.
The hearth is made of Vermont fieldstone laid up dry wall. The rock is primarily metamorphic schist that was gathered from the woods in East Warren, near George’s home. The core is filled with fine sand from a nearby glacial moraine. The baking surface is Vermont soapstone that was cut from a historic quarry in Perkinsville. The soapstone is particularly well suited to the high temperatures of the wood fire and has superb thermal retention characteristics. The oven dome is made from thousands of pounds of blue-grey clay hand dug from the old river delta in our back woods.
Each American Flatbread oven is built by hand and, when possible, reflects the local geography. For instance, our oven at the Marble Works in Middlebury has been built with a marble base, local to Middlebury. Our oven in Burlington Hearth is built of red rock, a common rock in the Burlington area.
We think of the American Flatbread Oven as a hearth for the whole community; it is a place to gather, break bread, and share.