Ten years ago the bread scene on the Far North Coast was decidedly grim.
Having come, like so many before and after me, from a big city where artisan bakeries
were springing up everywhere and pockets of immigrants were reproducing their bread- making traditions I was initially appalled, until I simply became accustomed to its absence. Gradually it has been improving, to a point where you can rock up to Byron Bay’s Top Shop, for example, and purchase a house-made loaf of seriously good sourdough made by resident baker Andrew Wightman. Or at the farmers markets you can seek out HeartBreads.
I seek out HeartBreads, one late Friday afternoon bathed in sunshine, at its actual heart, which is a property in Broken Head. As I walk toward a cluster of buildings I am met by a vision of absolute loveliness: three men are extracting with paddles from a huge open-air brick oven inlaid with Argentinian tiles loaf after loaf of rustic bread. It is such a perfect introduction to this little business run by couple Rachel Pearson and Simon Ivanac that it could almost have been staged.
‘We started this business in its present form about two years ago’, Rachel tells me, ‘We started at the New Brighton Farmers Market and if it weren’t for Judy McDonald – she’s brilliant! – if it weren’t for her willingness to give us a shot we wouldn’t be in the Byron markets now.’Rachel and Simon are secondary as opposed to primary producers, the standard criterion required to be eligible for certain farmers markets – and yet they were, after all, utilising eggs from their own chickens, spinach and herbs from their garden and whey from the Tweed Valley Whey girls. ‘It was persistence,’ Rachel tells me, ‘It took a year of applying and applying – but it was good because it made us really think hard about what our point-of-difference was.’That point- of-difference is the wood-fire oven (soon to be plural) and, to a lesser extent, the fact that Simon the baker was shaping everything by hand. ‘It’s still hand-formed’, says Rachel.
Rachel from Brisbane and Simon from West Australia met eleven years ago, through Rachel’s brother who was running a little homewares business together with Simon in Bay Lane, Byron Bay. Rachel tells me it was love at first sight and the first in a series of ‘happy accidents we call it’, says Rachel.
What they produce is authentic organic artisan wood-fired sourdough, the flour they use all organic Demeter biodynamic; they are also members of the Artisan Bakers Association which enables them to use the ABA logo on their products.
It really is hand-made: I turn to see Simon and assistants Larry and Dimitri prepare and shape brioche dough. I ask what their most popular bread is, and come away with Corn Bread. The next day I toast it, smear it with jam and crunch into it with complete pleasure : it is everything a good bread should be. And good bread is, as Rachel says, ‘one of those lovely fundamental foods.’