Real Bread In Review: A Real Treat

HIghbank Organic Orchard Shop

HIghbank Organic Orchard Shop. Highbank Farm was the location for the #realbread event

Saturday night marked the first in a series of Biabeag events, lead by Keith Bohanna, introducing makers from various food production backgrounds. While the likes of icecream, cider, coffee, chocolate and more are planned for the months ahead, the first event was focused entirely on bread, #realbread at that.

Joe Fitzmaurice, Josephine Plettenberg and Declan Ryan at #realbread

Joe Fitzmaurice, Josephine Plettenberg and Declan Ryan at #realbread

Taking place in The Green Stage Room at Highbank Farm (home of Highbank Organic Orchard Syrup, a real favourite of mine), we were introduced to Declan Ryan (Arbutus Breads), Joe Fitzmaurice (Cloughjordan Wood Fired Bakery) and Josephine Plettenberg (Spelt Bakers), who over the course of two hours brought us into their business backgrounds, lives and explained in great detail the work that they do with bread on a daily basis.

The idea for the series was spawned out of Joe’s appearance at Foodcamp in Kilkenny last October and things have just grown from there. So what happened when they spoke?

Declan Ryan, Arbutus Bread

Declan Ryan, Arbutus Breads

Declan Ryan, Arbutus Breads

From a Michelin-starred restaurant background to a bakery set up in his garage, Declan Ryan could easily ditch the bread industry for storytelling. His experience, travel, work ethic and passion all package up together so nicely.

There’s a fire there when it comes to talking about Irish bakers, the Chorleywood bread process (and all of the things wrong with it), all driving Declan and Arbutus towards the perfect sourdough bread.

To me, the nearly-sooner-make-it-out-of-a-packet occasional bread baker, there’s a hell of a lot involved in sourdough. Prepping mixes, making starters, feeding them every few hours and days, so as much as I’d like to try my hand it it, it may result in needing to take a week off work to get in to it.

On hearing of German sourdough (and again through Josephine), it feels like Arbutus are baking sourdough bread for the Irish palette; not pushing it too sour – like the agressive sourdoughs in Germany – and responding where possible to their customers needs and tastes.

If you go through the video above / below you’ll hear Declan talk out some of their recipes, the ‘magic 48’ temperature figures and the fact that at one market in Cork this weekend, even in the dismal weather, they still shifted over €1,500 worth of bread which hints at a great loyalty around the bread in Cork.

A fascinating speaker with a fascinating back story. You can hear it unfold in the video above. Follow @arbutusbread on Twitter.

Joe Fitzmaurice, Cloughjordan Wood Fired Bakery

Joe Fitzmaurice, Cloughjordan Wood Fired Bakery

Joe Fitzmaurice, Cloughjordan Wood Fired Bakery

After hearing Joe speak, it’s no wonder he’s considering scaling back his working hours to explore teaching and training. You could be forgiven for thinking he’s somewhat of a robot, such are the hours kept and short tranches of sleep over a few baking days to churn out a few hundred loaves a week.

Like Declan, Joe’s tale at Cloughjordan Wood Fired Bakery is a story of working into the family business, Blazing Salads, having previously created maps of sea beds as a surveyor. His breads, now baked in a wood-fired oven in Cloughjordan that hasn’t dipped below 100 degrees since it was built a few years ago, go to Blazing Salads and The Hopsack in Rathmines, Dublin, along with a distribution around Cloughjordan.

Where Arbutus might do 3,000 loaves in a bake, 300 would be a large bake for Joe, all down to baking with a single oven.

One interesting point from Joe was that when it comes to baking bread, you are the one responsible for your customers nutrition, especially if they’re not getting it from anywhere else. With that the approach to his breads reads like one of nutritional values first, then taste, then appearance.

The Real Bread Campaign raised its head a few times, along with some more of the science of bread making, particularly around the industrial process Seemingly the ‘rise of artisan bread’ in Ireland is a mere fallacy. What we actually have is a rise in the industrialisation of bread that just looks artisan.

Again, a great speaker with a real wood-fired passion for bread. Follow @cloughwoodfired on Twitter. There’s also a bread club around Cloughjordan as a way of ‘supporting your local baker’, interesting concept too.

Josephine Plettenberg, Spelt Bakers

Josephine Plettenberg, Spelt Bakers, Kilkenny

Josephine Plettenberg, Spelt Bakers, Kilkenny

Josephine strikes me as the humble baker. Her introduction alone began with detailing how unlike Joe or Declan before her, she doesn’t know the protein content of her recipes, she doesn’t know the water temperature or flour temperature and she deals in teaspoons, not kilos and litres. She does, however, love baking, along with being a journalist and geographer. And by God, given the quality of her spelt stromboli with roast vegetables, she’s damn good at it. She suggested the bread was the ideal lunchbox bread (I may be paraphrasing) but I’d happily consume it as a breakfast, lunch and dinner bread it’s just that tasty.

Josephine’s business in Kilkenny was born out of necessity, a necessity that has spawned a family business (aided by her children), that is producing bread and pizza bases on a regular basis, selling to special order and into Glasrai and Goodies in Gowran, Co. Kilkenny.

With things expanding, Josephine is looking at running baking classes and courses from the Spring of this year. Find Spelt Bakers on Facebook here.

A selection of breads from Spelt Bakers, Kilkenny

A selection of breads from Spelt Bakers, Kilkenny. Without fail, the most amazing spelt bread I’ve tasted.

What To Make Of It All?

Worth every penny, simple as. Even at that it was only a fiver for the night to hear from three breadmakers all at different stages of their career and get samples of all of their wares. While the numbers that were there in October to hear Joe talk at Foodcamp may have been low (the nature of the day lending itself to allow roaming between talks scheduled simultaneously), Saturday night was packed with a buzzing and captivated audience in the cosiest of atmospheres.

As events go, it was smoothly run, the venue at Highbank an ideal setting (and also a great insight to Highbank if you knew nothing of their products or background) to encourage a somewhat informal atmosphere. There was obviously a great amount of work put in from Keith, Julie and Rod Calder-Potts, all at Highbank and all who assisted in the running of the event.

I think it’s safe to say that if the remainder of the 2014 series of Meet The Maker events go as they did on Saturday, audiences will be in for a serious treat over the coming months.

As it happens, there was about two dozen copies of Feast magazine available for sale on the night so I’ve got that to hack into tomorrow.

A selection of breads from Arbutus, Cork

A selection of breads from Arbutus, Cork

The Next Event

The next event is on sale already to those who were in attendance on Saturday, going on general sale from today. Blessed are the cheesemakers on Saturday 5 April, and you’ll find tickets and details on

Watch The Video

Keith’s been busy. If you missed the event on Saturday night, you can now watch it all back on YouTube. There’s also more to be found here.

Written by Ken McGuire

Writes and talks a lot about food, spending way too much time in the kitchen or behind the lens taking photos. Digital Media Specialist by day, broadcaster by night, living in Kilkenny with Mrs. Any Given Food and two crazy rescue hounds.