Shhhh…Portland’s ‘secret’ artisan bakery
Words and images by Louise NorthTo find Portland’s ‘secret’ artisan bakery that only opens a few days a week, you walk up a laneway edged by a huge and beautiful bluestone wall, follow the blackboard signs, turn left and turn left again.
There you’ll find yourself at the red door of Kim Hol’s artisan sourdough bakery, The Bakehouse, where you can buy her handmade loaves as they come fresh out of the oven, taste the bread and watch her at work.
It’s a convivial kitchen at the back of the statuesque Georgian Sandilands building in Percy St, with people coming in to collect orders, deliver flour, or just say hello, and even make Kim lunch.
It has that lovely small town feel where people take the time to buy something simple but special.The sourdough bread bug started for Kim baking a few loaves for her family, then her neighbours at Gorae started to order loaves and then she couldn’t keep up with the orders made in her small oven or her Weber barbeque.
“I started making bread for neighbours and because we live out of town, bread is great currency. I never have to buy eggs or veggies because we all swap what we have,” Kim said as she busily shapes 35 lumps of dough.
“I was like most people, I bought bread at the shops for years, but then I was working at the (Portland) Secondary College and did a program with the kids about sourdough and it got me interested.”
In September last year Kim decided to take the plunge and leased the former kitchen at the rear of the Sandilands building, and bought an industrial oven and mixer.
The first oven baked just 12 loaves at a time. She outgrew that in a few months and now has an oven that bakes 30 loaves, “a Christmas present to myself,” Kim laughs.
Kim remembers walking into the run down kitchen.
“I cried when I saw what a state it was in. I worked in the kitchen as a teenager and my husband Peter did his chefing apprenticeship here, so the space holds a lot of memories.”Now the kitchen is alive with the slow whirring of the mixer churning dough, quiet chatter from customers who ask about the bread, exchange recipes and share tips about where to get the best honey, eggs or jam – and of course then there is that wonderful thick smell of baking bread.
“It’s a nice mix, I enjoy talking to people when they come in as well as being busy in the kitchen with the bread.”
And Kim’s not the only one busy with the long bread making process (2-3 days) and then selling of the loaves. Along with Peter, their three children, Meg, Liam and Lachlan are all involved at various times in the running of the business.
Sixteen-year old Liam helps out when Kim goes to the farmer’s markets at Port Fairy and Hamilton each month where The Bakehouse bread typically sells out fast and he is in charge of the money.
At a recent Port Fairy Farmers Market, Bluestone watched Kim and Liam sell 170 loaves in just two hours (but not before I snapped up a few loaves!). Word had spread quickly about Kim’s bread after attending just four markets.
“People now order bread because they worry that I’ll be sold out by the time they get to the market,” Kim says.
“I’m humbled by the success because really it’s only flour, salt and water, so I’m not sure why my bread is so popular, but I do know it is absolutely fresh.”Kim is often asked if she makes gluten-free bread, but sourdough it already very low in gluten when it is properly made, and Kim says that people with celiac disease eat her bread and have never had any adverse reaction.
The most popular loaves that Kim makes are the apricot and date, and the country loaf which contains a mix of white/rye and wholemeal flour.
Other bread often happens by accident, like the day Kim forgot to put garlic into the garlic bread dough mix, so instead she rolled feta and sundried tomatoes into the mix, and a new type of bread was created.
While Kim’s business has grown quickly, she isn’t planning to expand beyond what her and her family can manage.
“Once you start to get other people involved in the process you lose quality control. It’s a nice family business and that is how I would like it to stay.”
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