Gold Medal bakery rises to the occasion for Thanksgiving

Linda Murphy

When you pick up those Gold Medal dinner rolls and bread for stuffing and leftover turkey sandwiches, take comfort in knowing that you’re shopping locally and supporting local jobs this Thanksgiving.

“Ninety percent of the people we employ here are from the Greater Fall River area,” said Brian LeComte, Gold Medal treasurer. “My great-grandfather (Auguste LeComte) started out in Fall River baking in his basement on Lindsay Street.”

The bakery, which operates on Bay and Penn streets in Fall River, is just about to kick into high gear in the next couple weeks, adding additional temporary workers (college students home on break) to bake more than 2 million packages of rolls for Thanksgiving, its second-busiest roll holiday after the Fourth of July. In all, Gold Medal makes about 100 different varieties of rolls, from hamburger and hot dog buns to finger sandwich rolls and trays of snowflake and dinner rolls.

The fourth-generation family-owned business provides jobs to 500 full and part-time employees from the area who make roughly 60 million loaves of bread and 40 to 50 million packages of rolls a year, 90 percent of which are made for local and national supermarket store brands.

Hit hard by the low-carbohydrate craze in 2004 and 2005, the bakery’s volume decreased by about 3 percent during those years, but ramping up its whole wheat and whole grain products turned the business around.

“Our fastest growing segment is whole wheat, which grows by about 20 percent every year,” said LeComte.

In 2008, Gold Medal also entered into a partnership with General Mills to produce the Fiber One breads and English muffins for the region.

Churning out 10,000 rolls an hour, the bakery operates 24 hours a day, five days a week with five continuous lines that fall silent every Tuesday and Saturday for maintenance and cleaning.

Made only for the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, the orange-labeled stuffing bread, the basis for Gold Medal employee Isabel Cabral’s Portuguese stuffing as well as the traditional pork sausage or mushroom and wild rice stuffing recipes on its bag, is essentially a loaf of white bread that hasn’t been cut, to retain extra moisture, said LeComte.

The loaves of 16-ounce stuffing bread, which look like giant balls of stringy taffy when they’re removed from the industrial mixer, are placed into a loaf divider, where they pass through a quality control checkpoint at 15-minute intervals to ensure even weight. The lumps of dough spin through a “rounder” that forms them into round balls that travel down a conveyor into another machine that forms them into loaves and drops them into a tray of five loaf pans. From there the loaves pass through a proofing box before being baked and making the “cooling journey” on conveyors that run along a catwalk connecting the Bay Street baking operation with the packaging and shipping facility at 21 Penn St.

“We pride ourselves on the quality and consistency of our product,” said LeComte. “All of our loaves are the same size and uniformly browned on top.”

The following are recipes from Gold Medal employees:

Isabel Cabral’s Portuguese stuffing

1 loaf of Gold Medal stuffing bread

1/4 pound chourico

Liver and gizzard from turkey

1 large onion chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves; chopped

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

2 eggs beaten

Break up bread. Set aside. Simmer chourico, liver and gizzard in water until tender. Drain and set aside. In a large frying pan, sauté onion in oil until soft. Add garlic and parsley. Stir in spices and meat. Add beaten eggs. Return all ingredients to frying pan and cook until mixture is slightly dry before stuffing the turkey. Stuff a 12-pound turkey.

Nick Fox’s Fiber One Thanksgiving sandwich

1/4 cup of mashed potatoes

2 tablespoons of turkey gravy

2 slices of bacon

1 slice of American cheese

4 slices turkey

Layer ingredients on Fiber One Country white bread.

The Herald News