BOLA Granola: The Best in the Berkshires - And Beyond?
Everybody in our region knows someone who makes really great granola. Michele Miller’s husband, furniture maker Peter Murkett, was convinced that her granola was truly exceptional. Two years ago, he encouraged her to try packaging her very crunchy, not-too-sweet, savory blend of oats, almonds, brown sugar and pumpkin seeds. The first wholesale customer for BOLA Granola (“It’s a goofy, made-up name that makes people smile,” she says) was the Monterey General Store in the town where she lives. Next, she got into Guido’s, which is the Berkshires equivalent of getting the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Then she got into her car and started visiting specialty food stores and independent grocers across New England. “I like to visit every store I sell to and hand out samples,” says Miller. “People say, ‘You made this yourself?’ They love that.”
Working out of the SoCo Creamery plant in Great Barrington, Miller roasts her granola in commercial ovens, working three eight-hour shifts a week. “We mix everything by hand so the oats don’t get pulverized,” says Miller, who manages to look stylish in her shower cap and plastic gloves as she rotates trays in the oven. “It takes another day and a half to do the packaging,” she says, explaining how she designed the label herself on her home computer and then had Chatham graphic designer Millie Rossman Kidd refine it. She had to adapt her original recipe to make it more affordable and consumer friendly. “It was a lot nuttier before,” says Miller, who promotes her cereal as having 20 percent almonds. “It’s less like a trail mix than it used to be.”
How did Miller make the leap from Guido’s to Whole Foods? “It’s fairly easy to get your foot in the door if you present yourself as a local business,” she says. “I started with the Whole Foods in Hadley and now we’re in Whole Foods all over the Boston area.” As a native of the Berkshires who attended Lenox High School and worked at the legendary Alice’s Restaurant and was the first chef at the Old Inn on the Green, Miller is an instinctive but pragmatic Yankee locavore. She uses organic oats but has no qualms that they’re not local. “Salt and pepper are not local either. I am not going to give up lemons or chocolate,” she says brightly. “What I believe in is people making things locally and people supporting local makers. It’s about local energy and local enterprise. I am very proud that I am providing jobs.” While she employs assistants to make and package the granola, she relies on UPS for her distribution: “They get it to the stores the day after we make it—freshness is really important to me.” Without hiring a publicist, she managed to get the attention of the magazine Everyday with Rachel Ray (above), which named BOLA “best traditional” granola available in supermarkets in the United States in the April 2010 issue. “We’re supposed to be Snack of the Day soon on her TV show, too. I had to give her 150 bags of granola for the audience.”
Miller, who has cooked professionally in the Berkshires since 1974 (except for a recent five year stint as a corporate flight attendant) attributes the popularity of BOLA Granola to the simplicity of the product, which is distinctly crunchy and slightly salty. “I only make one variety,” she says. “People like that they don’t have to make a choice.” (Her next product will likely be a crunchy chocolate granola bar.) Miller likes to eat her granola straight from the bag (no milk! no yogurt!), though she has come up with some other ways to serve it. “I really like it sprinkled on a spinach salad with a balsamic vinaigrette or on top of an ice cream sundae.”