Sourdough may seem like the latest trendy ‘food craze’ right now, but it was an essential nutritional loaf long before it became fashionable. The discipline of blending ancient grains with traditional approaches is something that Real Bread Campaign Ambassador Aidan Monks and his team at Lovingly Artisan Bakery in Kendal, Cumbria, knows plenty about. We caught up with Aidan to discuss all things sourdough and more.
Luxurious Magazine: Sourdough is all the rage nowadays. How did your journey into baking sourdough begin?
Aidan Monks: My passion for sourdough began at the College of Culinary Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. Since then, my intuitive approach to baking sourdough has been based on a sourdough obsession. It’s like a guilty pleasure. I used to run the bakery, Le Pain de Paris in 1988 in Westmorland Shopping Centre in Kendal, but in 2007 my bakery based in nearby Staveley burned down. It was a devastating time for my wife Catherine and me, but we didn’t lose hope.
We started all over again and launched the current bakery ten years ago. I may have learned the craft at college, but my real training continues daily at my mixer, with my miller and on the oven and workbench. This is where all artisan bakers perfect the craft. I thrive on adapting old fermentation methods with a new way of thinking, such as blending whey and Kombucha with ancient grains, all with well-being and improved health in mind.
LM: What makes Lovingly Artisan bakery stand out from other bakeries and their methods?
Aidan: My approach to baking is based on an incredible depth of knowledge, experience and continual study. For me, it’s all about adopting old methods with a new way of thinking, such as using raw milk, ancient heritage grains and double fermentation within the bread. We believe that the lactic fermentation within our leaven is the essence of health and well-being. Our sourdough loaves use an ancient method of preparing and preserving fermented foods. It’s all about blending the grains boldly with impact taste and well-being in mind.
Our sourdough loaves have unique characteristics, grain blends, appearance, aroma, flavour, structure, and nutritional value. The grains heritage is at the heart and soul of our northern bakery’s personality. We have nurtured a small thread between how the grains are grown for us in the Northeast of England and how we bake our bread in the Lake District. The relationship we share with our farmer and miller Andrew Wilkinson of Gilchester Organics is fundamental to our beliefs.
LM: Sourdough is not new, as you have pointed out, but why does it seem to be enjoying a revival now?
Aidan: The consumer has woken up to what’s important to them; healthy sourdough with an unquestionable origin, taste, and heritage. But long before sourdough became fashionable, it was an essential aspect of the way I led my life as a baker. As an artisan, I enjoy the disciplines of blending various flours in a quest for the perfect combination.
It allows me to pursue my passion for food, produce and travel and people, which for a creative with a curiosity like myself is the perfect mix. Our ancestors left a legacy that we can learn from – keep it simple, celebrate nature and don’t be tempted by gimmicks or heavily processed doughs that are readily available in supermarkets.
LM: Bread, in general, is seen as a bad food not least because it’s full of carbs but also because people perceive flour as the enemy and blame it for their gut health problems. But your baking methods are different from mass-produced bread, are they not?
Aidan: Bread out there often contain many preservatives and rubbish. Our products contain core ingredients of flour, salt and water, and patience; no additives, no artificial ingredients or ingredients that serve no purpose to the health and well-being of those we bake for. We use modern-day thinking coupled with ancient methods. All of our recipes are for sourdough bread, and they are made in a special 24-hour fermentation process using natural levain.
We begin this process at 2 am on a Monday and no longer open the shop for customers on that day. Our method allows the breakdown of proteins so the body can digest the wheat properly – this method is said to help people with wheat intolerance.
LM: Lockdown has been hard for many. What was the impact of this on Lovingly Artisan?
Aidan: We were indeed affected by the lockdown like most companies. We used to supply sourdough to many places in the Lake District, including top hotels and Michelin star restaurants. We also had many people who would travel to taste our sourdough bread. And regular customers who visit his tiny unit from Cumbria and Liverpool specifically to get some bread.
We even sold plenty to London commuters. But of course, that all stopped in lockdown. But then we started to think outside the box and began selling more bread directly to customers rather than wholesale.
We went fully organic during lockdown; we launched an app where people could buy our bread. We started to deliver nationwide overnight and began selling ultimate breakfast collaboration with artisan condiment makers Hawkshead Relish. Once markets reopened, we continued to operate from the Lovingly Artisan bases at Kendal and Altrincham’s famous foodie market, where we’ve had a stall for years.
LM: Your sourdough has been recognised as one of the best out there, and we’ve learned your fans include royalty such as Prince Charles and A-list Hollywood actress Keira Knightley. Tell us about some of the awards you have won?
Aidan: My wife Catherine Connor, the team, and I are all so proud to have received many prestigious titles, including Bakery of the Year in 2019. We continue to pioneer and innovate new approaches to baking, which was the inspiration behind our Emmer blended with Kombucha, which won the BIA innovative product of the year in 2019.
Last year in lockdown, we won Bakery Business Cumbria’s Best Bakery 2020 and Farm Shop & Deli Show Baker of the Year 2020. It’s all about getting good quality products out there to people so they can enjoy wholesome nutritional food again. This is our ultimate goal.
LM: People turned their hands to baking during the lockdown. Are there any courses they can do with Lovingly Artisan where they can learn how to bake sourdough?
Aidan: We run several workshops, including discovering the art of making sourdough pizza and one-to-one and corporate sessions with Catherine and me. We’ve also designed a brand-new sourdough learning programme to help you out. The programme is based on an interactive workshop, where you will be able to get the answers to your baking-related questions from our resident expert bakers Aidan and Dean, throughout the session.
Throughout the day you will learn how to make a mother, your starter, and its relationship with baking sourdough, discover why flour matters to artisans, the importance of proving your dough, scoring the dough successfully and baking temperatures and approaches. Our Discover Sourdough Workshop will be LIVE on Sunday, 3rd October 2021.
Lovingly Artisan – Where and How?
To visit Lovingly Artisan, you can swing by the bakery between 8.00 am and 3.00 pm Tuesday to Saturday. Expect to find the team conversing with loyal customers, hoteliers, chefs, and restaurant owners at their small shop in (Lovingly Artisan Bakery, Plumgarths, Crook Road, Kendal, LA8 8QJ & Altrincham Market, Greenwood Street, Altrincham, WA14 1PF).
For more information, visit their website https://lovinglyartisan.com/.
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