Making sourdough is a truly artisan process

Cooperation: The pastry team and bread team have their own areas to work with, but usually help each other to keep things flowing efficiently. Photos: Supplied.
Cooperation: The pastry team and bread team have their own areas to work with, but usually help each other to keep things flowing efficiently. Photos: Supplied.

The renovation works at Valentines Bakehouse in Rutherglen has substantially increased the team's production capacity.

Co-owner Joe Perry is in charge of production and he tells us the new design has afforded them the ability to start from scratch, just as they do with the bread and pastry products they make.

There's one sequence of benches leading to the ovens for the bread team, and one set leading there for the pastry team.

Each team has their own trade qualified leader, and the pastry and bread makers will often help each other out, moving across to the other's bench for a bit to keep things flowing along efficiently.

Another feature Joe noted was that having the production area visible to customers means "It's also a chance for the bakers to show a bit of pride in what they do," Joe said.

As with many others working in a baking environment though, Joe or anyone else might actually start a shift so early that it was still yesterday.

That's especially true of the sourdough bread, which is up to a 30 hour process to get the doughs made so they can mature before they eventually make it to the oven.

The bakehouse production is therefore running pretty much constantly, with the ovens usually fired up for about a six hour window Joe tells us.

The product is then sliced or packaged as appropriate, loaded into the van, and delivered early each morning to the sister stores in Albury and Wodonga, along with other sites for various customers.

That gives you some idea of how labour intensive the process is, and how dedicated the team needs to be to consistently produce high-quality products.

Joe is also keen on product development, testing new possibilities for the already extensive range and making the current lineup absolutely top notch.

"A sourdough loaf is the one that you do keep on the bench unsliced for three or four days and keep chucking in the toaster. So increased hydration, that is, adding more water, increases quality of the dough, adding more life with the culture (starter) which means it stays fresh for longer. So that's a big part of our push," Joe said.

Artisan: Making sourdough is about a 30 hour process from mixing the dough with the starter culture to baking it in the oven and getting it ready for the stores.

Artisan: Making sourdough is about a 30 hour process from mixing the dough with the starter culture to baking it in the oven and getting it ready for the stores.

Something else adding to the quality and the overall appeal is the effort to support other family businesses in neighbouring regional areas. "That's important for us," Joe said.

"I think, especially with the experience of COVID and the bushfires, people are generally more aware of local consumption and local communities. And we need to understand the importance of tourism which is keeping smaller communities like ours alive."

The flour is supplied by Wholegrain Milling in Gunnedah, who themselves rely on their local grain growers. Others include Arnold's Fruit Market, Chilton and Rutherglen Butchery, Cadel Food Service, and Corowa-Rutherglen Dairy.

The new ovens to go alongside the existing workhorse was sourced from the same supplier from 30 years ago, Vanrooy Machinery down Melbourne way.

The coffee machines, and training for using and maintaining them, is from Cosmorex Coffee, a Canberra-based family business.

The other side of the family business is White Owl Coffee. "We roast all our own coffee," Joe says proudly, supplying not only their own stores but some others throughout the border region.

Joe notes that as a nation, "our palates are becoming more and more interested in food, wine and coffee, and it shows Australia's growth in terms of having the highest quality version of each one."

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