Eating gluten-free has quickly become a part of mainstream society. Many with Celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disorder, can’t process gluten, and others have started to eliminate gluten in their diet for various health and lifestyle reasons.
So it’s not surprising that one of the fastest growing companies in Vermont is a gluten free-bakery in Brattleboro called Against The Grain. Melissa Pasanen, food writer for Savorvore Section of the Burlington Free Press, joined VPR Café to talk about the budding bakery.
The business started seven years ago, several years after Tom Cain and his son were diagnosed with Celiac disease. “Tom said it was hard to give up beer and pizza, and then their, son who was 13, was diagnosed with the same thing,” says Pasanen. “As Tom said, try to tell a 13-year-old boy he can’t have pizza and you’re pretty much telling him his life is over.”
Tom's wife Nancy, who has a background in science, told Pasanen she was determined to make better gluten-free products for her own family in her own kitchen – and Against The Grain was born.
Seven years since inception, Against The Grain has grown substantially, grossing $12 million in sales in 2014. Their line of frozen pizzas, bagels, breads and more can be found in big stores like Whole Foods and Stop and Shop, as well as small co-ops throughout the country.
The company is based in North Brattleboro in the old Book Press Building and employs 70 people. The Cains originally came to Marlboro to take a break from their "crazy" life in New York City, Pasanen says, and ended up settling there when they figured out Nancy had cracked the gluten-free code. “She has products that people really think are wonderful – not just [because they’re] gluten-free,” says Pasanen.
Nancy’s recipes have become so popular that she was approached to do a gluten-free cookbook. Against the Grain was published in 2014 and features a sampling of Nancy’s key recipes and other gluten-free, natural recipes. “One of the things that does distinguish Nancy is that she was determined to make these products with only natural, whole food ingredients,” says Pasanen. “She doesn’t use any of the gums or additives that some of the other gluten-free bakeries are using.”
One of Pasanen’s favorite recipes from the cookbook is a Cocoa Bean Cupcake that consists of cocoa, sugar, black beans, coconut oil, baking soda and eggs. Pasanen says she has made other recipes with black beans and the taste is overpowering, but that this recipe helps balance the flavor out with coconut oil.
Nancy says the cookbook was a fun way for her to be creative and innovative in ways she isn’t able to when they are just trying to meet demand in their bakery. “She used it as a way to market the brand,” says Pasanen. “She said it’s for people who like to make their own things … she believes there is room for everything. She’s really about sharing the word and spreading the deliciousness.”
So what’s next for Against The Grain? They recently launched a retail store at their factory in Brattleboro, where people can buy seconds and the baked goods that Nancy is able to experiment with in small batches.
The VPR Cafe is produced in collaboration with the Burlington Free Press. It is made possible on VPR by Otter Creek Kitchenware in Middlebury's Marbleworks District, offering over 70 lines of kitchenware with personalized customer service.