WILLIAMSTOWN -- When Michael Taylor's mother-in-law visited from South Dakota several years ago, she made an unusual request of him and his wife.
"She asked me for a cardboard box and a lightbulb," Taylor said.
His mother in law, an avid baker, was looking for a place to "proof" bread dough, a process that encourages yeast's fermentation through warm temperatures and controlled humidity.
"I had made bread the same way for years, but we thought there must be a better way for her to do this," Taylor said.
Using materials from a local hardware store, Taylor constructed a crude folding box for her dough to rise in.
"She brought it back home and showed it to her friends, and they all loved it," Taylor said.
After making that first prototype, Taylor founded Berkshire Innovations LLC in August 2010. By 2011, Taylor had patented his invention, secured a manufacturing location in China and begun distributing it under the company name Brod & Taylor. Brod is the Norwegian word for "bread," Taylor said, chosen as a nod to his late mother in law.
Taylor, whose company now employs four people in Williamstown and maintains warehouses in Southern Berkshire County and California, said the response to the product has been overwhelming.
"It's been really embraced by people who want to be able to control ingredients of the food they consume by producing it at home, and know what goes into it and want to make it their own way," Taylor said.
The device is a smaller, more compact version of what professional bakers use, Taylor said. Bakers use a proofing oven to control the temperature and humidity while the yeast ferments and causes the bread to rise. While the oven is effective, it isn't practical for many who want fresh bread at home, he said.
"Even a smaller bread proofer would be the size of a small refrigerator and a couple of thousands dollars," Taylor said. "Home bakers have to resort to ad-hoc techniques, anything from putting lightbulbs in cardboard boxes to putting the bread in the bathroom with the shower on."
Taylor's product, which can be used on a countertop and folds for easy storage, heats the contents between 70 and 120 degrees and keeps humidity at 70 percent, he said.
Taylor said since it was introduced, the company has received surprising feedback on its actual use.
"Using the product to make yogurt has become almost more popular than using it to make bread," he said.
It's possible to make homemade yogurt within three hours after adding the starter yeast, he said, depending on the kind of milk used. The proofer provides the right temperature for yogurt to culture in whatever container fits inside.
Taylor said the bread proofer has recently been released overseas. A 240-volt version was made available this winter, he said.
He added the proofer is available on Amazon.com, and also available at kitchen specialty stores, including Euphorium on Spring Street in Williamstown.
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