Gluten-free foods sometimes get a bad rap, although they are rapidly proliferating, thanks to the potential allergen’s association with fatigue, digestive disorders, and even (more controversially) with autism and autoimmune diseases. Although the “GF” symbol is now ubiquitous in many local bakeries, making wheat-free treats at home can prove a bit gritty. Baking without flour goes against traditional sense, and it takes some skill to get a palatable taste and texture.
Ardenne Farm, based in Mills River, is trying to take gluten-free baking mixes to the next level. The manufacturer’s parent company Dover Foods got its start two decades ago in Newfane, Vermont, primarily serving hospitals, universities, and other large institutions. The company grew from a single employee in founder Kathy Milner’s home to a 17,000-square-foot facility in local Mills River, where it expanded its focus last year to gluten-free products for home cooks.
Milner says it was a “big leap” to shift to retail sales, but it was a move that happened naturally. “It didn’t come from looking at the market and seeing what we could make money on,” says Milner. “It just came organically from what I do already.”
The company uses a blend of brown and white rice flour, as well as potato starch and cassava flour, similar in texture to tapioca flour. It purchases its grains from a special mill in California, which helps to ensure that the mixes have a smooth texture.
The company now produces gluten-free cookie, brownie, and cake mixes, and is the 2014 winner of the Gluten Free New Product Showcase award at the Natural Products Expo East, held in Baltimore in September.
Bold Life tested the brownie mix to see if it was as rich and fudgy as the box proclaimed. The batter came together smoothly and poured into the pan with no lumps. The quintessential brownie smell permeated the air as they baked.
The brownies were indeed chocolaty when they came out of the oven. A premature taste revealed a dense, chewy texture with none of the brittle crumbles that characterize gluten-free baked goods. The brownies held up well after they cooled, although by the next morning they had more of a crumbly chocolate-cake texture than a traditional gooey brownie. Not necessarily a bad thing, but also not the exact replica of the original.
The box doesn’t look much different from a typical dessert mix, except for the words “gluten free” in a small circle at the top. Gluten-sensitive eaters might not even notice the baking mix’s gluten-free attributes as they stroll through the aisles of Ingles or Earth Fare.
“I hope we can take the product nationally,” says Milner. “If you have something that’s really excellent and you price it fairly, people will buy it.
“That’s my goal,” she adds. “To get it nationwide.”