The newest deliciously crusty, artisan bread in Houston is coming from an unexpected place: your Kroger supermarket.
On March 31, the national grocery chain debuted Moulin Francais, its new line of all-natural, European-style artisan bread, in Dallas and Houston, with a selection of baguettes and country boules, plus flavors such as chocolate cranberry — not unlike what you'd find at big-city artisanal bakeries.
According to a release, the breads are made following old-world baking techniques, with a goal of bringing the best of rustic, French artisanal bakeries to bread lovers across America.
The line was first launched in Denver in December 2018. Texas is the second market, specifically in Houston and Dallas. It's available at all Kroger stores in the Houston area.
The breads represent another premium offering from Kroger similar to its partnership with Murray's Cheese, one that has resulted in the installation of mini Murray's Cheese shops inside many Kroger locations.
According to Kathy Klingensmith, senior culinary innovation manager for Kroger's Our Brands, the Moulin Francais selection is exclusive to Kroger and includes:
- Tuscan Ciabatta Baguette
- Rustic Artisan Baguette
- Multigrain Baguette
- Authentic Artisan Baguette
- Supreme Garlic Bâtard
- Trois Fromage Bâtard
- Honey Wheat Bâtard
- Sourdough Bâtard
- Rustic Italian Bâtard
- Grande Rustico Bâtard
- Cranberry Walnut Bâtard
- Country Boule
- Multigrain Carré
- Pane Ciabatta
- Rosemary Focaccia
- Sesame Semolina Pavé
- Rustic Ciabatta Pavé
- Buckwheat Pavé
- Chocolate Cranberry Pavé
- Raisin Walnut Pavé
"The quality is phenomenal," says Klingensmith, who oversees new products for the company. "The garlic batard is so good, you won't need garlic bread. The trois fromage batard is so rich from the cheese. And yet these breads are very reasonable priced."
The breads come in different sizes, including a small pave, like a dinner roll or sandwich; a batard and ciabatta, both larger and oblong; and the baguette, the classic long thin loaf. Prices start at 99 cents and top out at $3.99 for a large loaf.
This would not be the first time a supermarket chain has introduced artisanal breads. In the late '90s, Los Angeles-based LaBrea Bakery initiated a similar venture with par-baked breads that were shipped it to supermarkets around the country. Other companies have followed suit. Kroger and LaBrea also signed a deal in 2018 to sell LaBrea's Reserve line of French and sourdough demi-baguettes.
Klingensmith claims that Moulin Francais is processed differently from LaBrea, which freezes its bread before shipping, but she remains veiled about the actual process.
"Moulin Francais breads are baked to about 95 percent of completion, then distributed to stores," she says. "They do the final bake before placing it on the shelves, so you can smell that amazing aromatic bread throughout the store."
The ingredients are remarkably simple and prototypically artisanal. The garlic batard, for example, has wheat flour, water, rye flour, levain, garlic, salt, malt, and yeast. Levain is the French term for starter, a mixture of water and flour which makes the bread rise and gives it a flavorful tang; it's a key ingredient in artisan breads.
"We're giving consumers an everyday option for bread with the richness, texture, and flavor of breads you'd find in Europe," Klingensmith says.
And while gluten-free has become a mantra for many, the Moulin Francais line speaks to the consumer who still eats bread and wants a high-quality European experience.
"Not everyone has a bakery, and I believe consumers are looking for this amazing old world craft," she says. "People are traveling to different destinations around the world and expect to find those kinds of ingredients and experiences, and for those people, this is going to be mind-blowing."