Words Kate Underwood, @relishthememory, Images Brydie Thompson
For the dynamic mother and son duo behind Mount Sourdough Co, a retired teacher and trained engineer, baking bread was never part of the plan. With Margaret the hands-on baker and Sam the guiding force behind the business, over the last four years they have transformed their passion into a local network of sourdough fans.
Margaret’s interest in sourdough began years ago, when her daughter developed a gluten intolerance. After exploring the extensive health benefits, she started making loaves that her daughter could easily digest. Upon retirement, in early 2018, Margaret became completely sourdough obsessed. Constantly researching and experimenting, she was baking two to three loaves a day. Sam was eating his share and she’d give the rest away to grateful neighbours and friends.
One day when there were a few extra loaves, they put up a post on social media. Thinking they might sell one or two, within half an hour, they had a dozen responses. Seeing people’s reactions sparked Sam’s curiosity and he saw an opportunity to support his mum’s passion project. Delaying an overseas trip, Sam helped get the home kitchen registered and set up the online business.
Thanks to the lengthy fermentation process, it takes just under two days or roughly 44 hours to make a loaf of Mount Sourdough Co – a vocation not to be underestimated.
Sourdough is defined as bread that has been naturally leavened, without the use of commercial yeast. It rises thanks to the ‘starter’, a living organism which involves a mixture of fermented flour and water, laden with wild yeast and good bacteria. The presence of this ‘bug’ is what delivers its distinctly sour, tangy flavour and subtle chew.
The first few loaves were a boule or ball, but with growth and feedback came an evolution in form. They added an oval batard and moved most of their range to the square tin loaf. Turns out their local eaters preferred the practicality for sandwiches and toast.
Three months went by, Sam still hadn’t left and Margaret continued to bake at home. In May 2018, they were approached by Te Puna Deli, who became their first official stockist. As word spread, the sourdough crew grew, and enquiries continued from Central Deli, Cherrywood Four Square and Tay Street Café.
Continuing to gain momentum, after six months Sam had officially flagged the overseas plan. After 18 months of production they made the jump from home kitchen to permanent bakery, acquiring new ovens and employing their first staff member. One thing they’ve remained committed to, despite temptation to diversify, is providing a tight, top quality and reliable range.
Margaret’s base recipe has been refined many times. It’s a unique blend of white, wholemeal, rye and malt flour plus salt, with no additives or preservatives. The specialty loaves build from this same recipe with the addition of seeds, fruit, spices and herbs.
Baking is a huge commitment, the super early mornings, weekends, maintaining the starter all year round (even on holiday!) and the strenuous, physically demanding job of lifting, mixing and shaping dough. “You can learn the basics quickly – but it takes time and experience to make really good bread,” Sam explains. Particularly building the knowledge to manage variables like humidity, temperature, hydration and wheat characteristics.
They learnt quickly that good bread needs good people. “It started with just us and now we’ve grown into a team of seven who are all on board with our mission,” shares Sam. Their diverse business model, providing for hospitality and retail, was a saving grace during Covid, as it allowed them to keep operating for supermarkets.
Sam and Margaret have prioritised building strong personal relationships along the way, often with other like-minded family businesses that value quality, including Oscar and Otto and George Café. Regan, the Cherrywood Four Square owner, was instrumental in helping get their bread on shelves across a number of supermarkets in the Bay.
There are no regulations around the use of the term ‘sourdough’, so unfortunately some companies just add sourdough flavour and sell the knock-offs for cheap. Sam’s hope is that more people respect the process and understand that real bread is better for them. Margaret also loves talking about the advantages of long-fermentation and has made various school visits across the Bay to share the sourdough magic.
Their ultimate goal is to get as many people interested in naturally leavened sourdough as possible, through more educational workshops and, one day, a hole-in-the-wall bread window so you can buy direct. Until then, the best way to experience a slice of the goods is to find your nearest stockist at www.mountsourdough.com.