In January 2000, after 5 years baking sourdough bread at home, Melbourne lawyers John Calvert and Bronwynne Roberts decided to pursue their passion for bread and started Irrewarra Sourdough bakery.
It was a bold move for two lawyers who had never baked commercially, particularly given they were setting up the bakery in the middle of a paddock in rural Irrewarra. But the bread was an instant success along the Great Ocean Road and soon Irrewarra was being delivered daily into Melbourne. Since then the bakery has grown to become one of Australia’s best and largest sourdough bakeries diversifying into granola and festive and sweet baked products.
Rustic and pure, this family run bakery is located in Irrewarra, a Western District farming area, near Colac. The bakery is in the restored stables of Irrewarra House – once filled with the aroma of horses and straw, it now exhales the heavenly aromas of freshly baked bread.
Shaped by hand and baked on the stone floor of the oven, every loaf is the individual expression of the bakers’ hands. Never heavy or sour, Irrewarra Sourdough bread is the culmination of a 30-hour fermentation and proofing process.
Who are the team behind Irrewarra Sourdough and what made you launch?
The Irrewarra team looks very different today compared with the early days in 2000. Back then it was just us the founders, John and Bronwynne Calvert. We quit our lives as Melbourne lawyers and transformed the stables on an old family property at Irrewarra into a bakery. We had been baking sourdough bread at home for 5 years and decided to give commercial baking a go, back then there was little good sourdough around. Now it's still us but 50 employees who help bake, package and run the business.
What does a day in the life of the Irrewarra Sourdough team look like?
Preparation of the bread starts early the day before, mixing the dough then it ferments over the day. We bake into the evening and early morning before the packing staff come in to prepare for the truck that arrives to deliver the bread to Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road region.
What sets Irrewarra Sourdough apart from other sourdoughs on the market?
Our bread is 100% sourdough, that is we don't add any commercial yeast. In fact we don't add anything - no malt, vitamin C, dough improvers or emulsifiers. It's the same style as we made at home. Also we don't cold ferment. Many sourdoughs are mixed , shaped then put in refrigeration for around 10 hours. This makes them quite sour. We don't do that. We also deliver fresh daily so our bread doesn't go in a plastic bag and sit on a shelf for days.
Can you tell us more about Irrewarra Sourdough and the ingredients used?
We use the best ingredients we can source and as local as possible. Most of our flour comes from Victorian grown wheat.
What was involved in developing the current range of Irrewarra Sourdough?
In the beginning we only baked a few loaves, the ones we enjoyed, the casalinga, sandwich loaf and baguette then we gradually added varieties, developing the ingredients from scratch to make the loaf as good as we could. The Breakfast Seed loaf is one we developed that we are really proud of - Combi Cafe use it for their Avocado on Toast which is sensational.
What do you like to do when you’re not busy with Irrewarra Sourdough?
We head to Lorne to enjoy the beach in summer, cooking at home for friends and family. We also love to collect antiques to furnish our 1860s home and we travel overseas when we can. At the moment we are very busy planning the construction of our new bakery at Irrewarra which will be open the public. It will be near our original bakery in the stables. We have also planted our own wheat crop so in the future we'll have an estate-grown loaf.
What is your favourite Irrewarra recipe?
We love bread, so a good sandwich for us is wonderful. If we have a roast chicken for dinner we will have the leftovers cold on a sandwich for lunch - chicken, stuffing (recipe on our website using our casalinga), mayonnaise, roasted red capsicum and lettuce) on the wholewheat loaf.
If you were stranded on an island and could only bring three things, what would they be?
Bread, cheese and wine! (We also have a 10 acre vineyard and being too busy to make wine we sell our fruit to the excellent producer Farr Rising ... an Irrewarra Vineyard wine will be released later this year!)