The Wandering Palates Melbourne correspondent, Andrew Jenkins (Jenks), espouses the virtues of artisan baked bread and has a sourdough story of his own
One of my very early memories, growing up in a small country town in Gippsland (then a tortuous, day long trip from Melbourne) is being sent by my mother to the local bakery to buy a loaf of bread. It would be presented, still warm and redolent, wrapped in tissue paper. It would be white, a half block, unsliced, and I would dig out handfuls of warm soft moist bread and eat it on the way home from Mr Jongebloed’s bakery.
Later on, at boarding school, where the food on the whole was atrocious, perhaps not even that good, another simple pleasure was being given by the kitchen staff a large old fashioned biscuit tin full of sliced white bread and a big knob of butter. I can still summon up the smell of toasted white bread with butter and Vegemite in my study.
I can also remember, but choose not to summon up, visions of toad in the hole, leather-like steaks and tinned spaghetti with tomato sauce. The last dish, served for breakfast once a week, put me off pasta for years, until I found Carlton in the late 1960s as a University student.
This Easter just past, we ventured to Wye River on the Great Ocean Road, for the usual camping holiday. I don’t camp, but on occasion the family suasion is so powerful I have to.
The reasons why I don’t camp include the weather. Last Easter at Wye River, we experienced perfect beach weather under clear blue skies, with rolling surf; leaden skies with heavy rain and hail; squalls, high winds and wild, boiling seas. All of this over a five day period.
But there was of course a silver lining: the Wye River General Store and Café. Among the many offerings here there was a range of sourdough breads baked on the premises. Warm through to quite hot straight from the bakery to the store bench, crusty, fleshy, tasty breads; bring on the weather!
Here, the coffee too is brilliant, and the selection of pastries sinfully inviting. A cafe latte with a Portuguese tart while watching rain driven horizontally by the howling winds, with a wood fire burning in the corner saved me on more than one occasion.
Wye River is a quiet little spot on the Great Ocean Road, about 30 minutes past Lorne; I will be camping there next Easter without too much persuasion, unless I am informed that the silver lining has gone off or closed down. Heaven forbid; this is one gem of a place. Visit the website at www.wyerivergeneralstore.com.au and be sorely tempted to head down there immediately.
But, back to the point. There is no need in my life for mass produced bread from the supermarket, with the rise and rise of the artisan baker in Victoria. To the west of Melbourne where we live now, there is the beautifully crafted range of breads from La Madre in Geelong, the crusty tasty certified organic range offered by Zeally Bay Bakery at Torquay, and at Irrewarra near Colac, Irrewarra Bakery offers a vast range of sourdough breads and other treats; all of these are now well distributed and are available in Melbourne as well as locally.
We are just working our way through the Irrewarra Bakery Sourdough Fruit and Nut Loaf (generously laden with mixed fruit and nuts, and bound together in textured chewy sourdough bread); it takes approximately two breakfasts between two adults and two children to get through this 1 Kilo loaf. Delicious!
And we always have the Zeally Bay Light Rye loaf on hand at home. The flavour is truly, deliciously, rustic and ever so slightly sour. A favourite with our nine year old and a loaf doesn’t last long. I have to get up early in the morning to stake my claim.
From La Madre the seeded sourdough is a wonderful loaf, with sesame, linseed and sunflower seeds through wheat and rye flours.
Good bread from these bakers is not expensive, even by comparison with the mass produced stuff at the supermarket. Somewhere between $A5 – 8 gets you a truly wonderful loaf. Life is too short for anything else.
Now, the life of a baker is not easy. They work in the wee small hours, while the rest of us are fast asleep. The work is physically demanding and it messes with your social life to the point where there isn’t one. Easy for me to say you might be thinking.
When we ventured down to Jan Juc, which neighbours Torquay, about 25 kilometres west of Geelong and at the start of the Great ocean Road, we were at a loss for something productive to do. So, ever the entrepreneur, Melissa decided we would buy and operate a local stand alone bakery. When I asked who would bake the bread, she told me that would be me.
Luckily the baker stayed on after we bought the business, but I had to roll up my sleeves after dark. I laboured long and hard, and after two months of working physically in a hot bakery I went from 86 Kilos to 75. I also did a lot of washing up, and I can vouch that bakers make more mess than most; part of my job as proprietor was to clean up after the night’s baking and then help run the front of house.
We tried the mysteries of sourdough culture but failed. I lasted two years and we sold up, conceding that what we had there was really a sandwich shop that baked its own bread. After the experience I have nothing but admiration for the artisan baker.
Visit the following websites to have a look at what these craftspeople are doing. And better still try the products if they are available in your bailiwick.