When Steve Otto retired after a life-long career in the cement and concrete industry, he saw retirement as an opportunity to further explore his interest in masonry. This interest lead to the construction of a homemade, brick oven constructed from primarily recycled materials, including the bricks which were chunks of old concrete. Construction began in September of 2015 and one year later, Steve started using his creation for baking.
It was difficult at first. Steve spent a lot of time figuring out just how to use the oven to make a consistent and delicious bread, including what the ideal floor and wall temperatures of the structure were ideal for baking bread. During this time, Steve made a variety of modifications to the oven, including insulating the structure.
His wood fired oven sits behind his house on the east edge of Mason City, overlooking a beautiful, open prairie providing a relaxing feeling in this “outdoor kitchen”. Otto’s Wood Fired sells a delicious sourdough bread that has become a crowd favorite at the North Iowa Farmers Market. As Steve’s first year vending at the farmers market, he has created quite the name for himself, having been told by customers that he has the best bread in the United States. Customers have used his bread for a variety of uses including French Toast and croutons. Others sheepishly admit that they can eat the whole loaf by itself…after sharing a piece or two with their children of course.
Steve thoroughly enjoys the market experience. He likes conversing with the customers and the other vendors alike, often learning of the different recipes customers use his bread for. For Steve, it’s more than just a loaf of bread.
“It’s always rewarding to hear how your product is incorporated into your customer’s life”, Steve reflects. “I hate to call it a labor of love, but that’s really what this is all about; sharing my passion of masonry and creating a high quality, consistent and delicious bread that others can enjoy”.
The entire process for baking the sourdough bread is very time intensive. It takes three days, starting with preparing the starter for the fire. Every Thursday night before Friday’s market, Steve builds a large fire in the oven and allows it to burn through the night, heating the floor of the oven to about 900 degrees! Early the next morning, he removes all the ash and soot and waits for the oven to cool to the proper temperature. Baking 7-8 loaves at a time on the hearth of the oven, it takes about 30-35 minutes for the loaves to bake. Steve typically brings about 30 loaves of bread to the market every Friday and regularly sells out.
In conversation with his customers and other market vendors, Steve hopes to find someone who shares his passion for masonry and bread making. He would love for the opportunity to help someone build their own brick oven and mentor them through the process. He also hopes to explore making a whole wheat bread in addition to the sourdough favorite.
You can find Otto’s Wood Fired bread at the North Iowa Farmers Market every Friday from 4:00- 6:30 PM in the public parking lot at the corner of 1st NE and Delaware in downtown Mason City. Don’t wait, stop by today to try the bread everyone has been buzzing about!