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Local Couple Launches Delectable Microbakery

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Maria and Chris Holbrow , the braintrust behind Forgotten Flavours, a new microbakery in Niverville. Sara Beth Dacombe

Maria and Chris Holbrow are proud to present Forgotten Flavours, a new artisanal microbakery located in Niverville. The couple spent the last two years renovating the basement of their home into a licensed commercial kitchen, fully certified with food health and safety. It covers a modest 705 square feet and doesn’t have a storefront, which is part of the business plan to keep the bakery discreet.

Instead people order online and the bread is delivered directly. They’ve also been building the business by attending local craft and food markets, where many have already had the opportunity to sample and purchase their traditional loaves and a unique product called pate de fruits.

The entrepreneurs completed the bakery in 2021 but had to endure a long wait to officially launch the business due to a backlog in health inspections that built up over the course of the pandemic. With the new licensing, they are excited to expand their sales platforms.

Maria is the baker—and the boss, she adds—and Chris is the business planner behind the scenes.

“We wanted to introduce ourselves and our bakery to the community. We’re not baking in our own kitchen upstairs in our home,” says Chris. “We’re certified to sell to markets and up to four retail stores. We aim to certify in agriculture as well so we can sell more. We know we can grow and we have the capacity now to do quite a large volume.”

The bakery features two baking ovens imported from Germany, an enormous bread proofer, milling machines, and floor-to-ceiling storage containers for their supply of Manitoba-sourced whole grains which they grind and flake themselves.

Chris is from Winnipeg and Maria is originally from Ukraine. The family moved from Winnipeg to Niverville in 2018 and is enjoying the small-town atmosphere with their three young children.

“Personally, one of the most exciting things we experienced here was Halloween,” says Chris. “In Winnipeg, no one goes out anymore. Here, it was a whole community thing. People from all over came out and they’re friendly and there’s such community spirit. We’re also right on the lake here and we always see in winter the ice rinks. For me, it brings me back to that childhood feeling of a true neighbourhood.”

The couple has felt extremely welcome in town, and while they know Niverville is growing rapidly, they feel the nature of the community has the capacity to keep that small-town feeling.

“Niverville is home for us. We love it here and it’s the only home our children really know,” says Chris, who currently works full-time in project management in the area of property development.

Maria is also a certified professional architect, but the passion for building designs just wasn’t there. Now she uses her gifts differently, to analyze the building blocks of what makes the best-tasting and healthiest bread possible.

“I just never wanted to be sitting in the office and doing all kinds of office things,” says Maria. “I just love working with my hands and that was where my passion was. I wanted to bring back all the old recipes, with their natural ingredients, to showcase how these foods are supposed to taste, not how the industry wants us to believe how they taste.”

Wild Yeast Farmers

Maria’s bread involves a 48-hour process, which means she starts it two days before she sells it. She needs to do this because she uses a wild yeast which she makes and cultivates herself.

Maria says each steam of yeast has a different flavour and aroma. The complexity contributes to the breads’ intense and hearty disposition—and also how difficult it is to make.

“It is a little tricky, because it is dependent upon consistency,” she says. “It’s a living organism. I’m like a farmer. I have little microorganisms that I tend, like a farm.”

Maria may be the only “yeast farmer” in all of Canada, as the couple has yet to meet anyone in the country who is isolating stems of yeast for bread-making the way she does. She has spent a lot of time with her yeasts to learn how and why they work as the best starter for healthful and great-tasting bread.

Another common starter for bread is the fermented flour mixture used for sourdough, but Maria and Chris say that is not at all the same thing as wild yeast.

“Sourdough is a lactic bacteria,” Chris explains. “It’s fermenting flour. Wild yeast is cultivated with fermenting fruits and vegetables and even there’s even one, which is cream-based, and it gives the most amazing flavours, textures, and aromas.”

Maria adds that sourdough is a type of lactic bacteria, with maybe a couple of yeast stems, but typically not a lot of them.

“It depends how you keep your sourdough,” she says. “Obviously with sourdough, you can get very good at maintaining it and you’ll know what to do. But this is a more developed process. Wild yeast is an all-natural, wild yeast. It’s not commercial yeast that you can buy from the store, which has one strain that they’ve multiplied and said to us all, ‘This is the kind of yeast you’re going go get.’ Wild yeast, it has 15 stems of yeast, all different kinds.”

Maria has taken courses in Europe about this type of yeast cultivation and she has a drive for continuing education that keeps her on the cutting edge of food science in her area of expertise.

“I love to read books about bread,” she says, joking that the family’s next renovation will need to be about adding a library for all the books she’s accumulated on the subject.

Good Bread for Good Health

Being from Ukraine, Maria has experienced first-hand how traditional ingredients and methods are strictly adhered to in the baking industry, as opposed to the Western world where she says more and more preservatives are being used.

“We’re finding these are in foods and the foods are not very good for us,” she says. “We’ve forgotten what natural foods taste like and how they make us feel.”

Ingredients lists on baked goods from major brands are often long and include preservatives that aren’t commonly found in the average baker’s pantry.

Like a lot of consumers, the Holbrows began to ask why those ingredients are necessary and pay close attention to how they make our bodies feel when ingested.

“You can break your tongue trying to pronounce those ingredients,” says Maria. “And we asked, why do they need them? To increase the shelf-life and make more money?”

“It’s all about mass production, for profit, and it’s not right,” says Chris, who has struggled with digestion issues for years. “I’d been in and out of hospitals with chronic digestive problems. I never ate bread, never ate cakes. What we’re talking about is food that is truly nutritious and truly healthy for you. You have good long-term energy and limited spike-drop reactions. It’s not just about making it taste good, though you’re not going to miss out on that. But it’s also going to make you feel good.”

Not claiming to be nutritionists, the couple says they’ve experienced the health benefits of eating a diet that incorporates a lot of bread while many North Americans are cutting it out completely. They say it’s a combination of ingredients and the method that makes their bread not only more tolerable to those whose digestion typically reacts negatively to bread ingredients. They say that their products provide readily digestible vitamins and nutrients that our bodies need.

“When bread is mass-produced for shelf life, they use commercial yeast and which has a quick rise so they can produce it and get it out the same morning,” says Chris. “It grows so fast that it does not break down the folic acids and the harmful enzymes in grain, thus your body is forced to break it down. We are ingesting things that are made for mass production and shelf life.”

Forgotten Flavours’ breads aren’t gluten-free and the couple doesn’t claim that everyone who needs a gluten-free diet can safely eat their bread.

“But when someone says they can’t eat gluten, I’d like to encourage them to look again,” Chris says. “Because often it’s not the gluten. It’s the process.”

“If you take bread that you make from yeast, it takes up to three hours, for example,” Maria adds. “But [our bread] takes 48 hours and that means all the glutens have already been broken down, essentially eaten for you. So when you ingest it, your body digests it so fast. It doesn’t take hours and hours and hours to digest and you don’t feel like you’ve eaten an elephant.”

The Holbrows aren’t against eating wheat or carbs or sugars, but they say the manufacturing of foods based on the body’s craving responses should be called into question.

“They are designed to make you crave them more,” says Maria. “If you watch what they do, it’s mind-blowing. They have foods tested and scientists are recording what tastes make you want more and more and more. They add those flavours, salty and crunch, sweet and sour, and you think it would be amazing. But the question is, do we even need that?”

Chris explains that the psychology of it is probably subconscious

“We all eat foods knowing that it’s not good for us,” he says. “It’s instant, easy, quick consumption, and it has flavour. But our food is different. Our bread has volume to it and you feel fulfilled. It’s a different kind of satisfaction—and it, too, can be subconsciously affirming. But if you want to talk a psychological pitch, ours is: source local, make healthy, be happy. It’s that simple. It’s that satisfying.”

Unforgettable Products

In a market where local artisanal products are becoming more readily available and claims about the health of eating bread can seem confusing, the Holbrows aren’t depending on their food science knowledge to convince people.

Maria says the taste is what captures people. And children, who have no filter, are often a good way to judge how things taste.

“My nephew, he tastes a cookie of mine and he says, ‘This doesn’t taste like a cookie,’’ she says. “And he means it doesn’t taste like a store-bought cookie. So the idea of the forgotten flavours came from that, too.”

Their best-selling bread is a Ukrainian-Russian loaf called baton. It is a long, substantial loaf and is commonly used for all purposes.

“It’s what people would look to as a go-to sandwich bread,” says Chris. “It has a tight-knit dough, a small crumb, so it works well for sandwiches and you can spread toppings and mayonnaise on it and it won’t immediately go soggy or soak through.”

They also have a cinnamon-raisin loaf, a Manitoba rye, a dark rye, and tartine. They sell a wild yeast bread starter—called a levain—in the form of a dehydrated “dough ball” which is enough starter to make two loaves of bread. Another product is the so-called bread-aid, which is a small glass tube into which you place a small amount of dough; you can measure its rise using the guide printed on the side so that you know when it’s the exact right time to bake your bread.

These bread products are memorable and creative, a testament to the entrepreneurs. But here Chris defers to Maria, saying that when it comes to creativity and baking ability, Maria has no limits.

“She is able to make the most amazing and delicious cakes you’ve ever had, and cakes you’ve never even had,” he says. “I’m very proud of her products. It’s always all-natural ingredients, all locally sourced grains which we mill here, so you get nothing but the freshest ingredients.”

Besides bread, Maria’s creativity is showcased in her skillfully made pate de fruit, which they sell in 27-piece boxes. The jam candy squares look similar to jujubes or Turkish delight, but unlike those candies, pate de fruit is kept as simple as possible, allowing the natural pectin in the fruit to develop a unique texture.

It can be a deceptively simple recipe and takes time and experience to perfect the consistency, but Maria has nailed it. The gem-toned treats are a delight to the eye while the flavour of the fruit remains prominent and not overtaken by syrupy sweetness. The texture is very smooth, somewhat firm at first, but then melts in your mouth without being gritty, waxy, gummy, or gelatinous.

Again the Holbrows have put a lot of work into creating a product with a short and natural ingredient list.

“The difference between this and Turkish delight is that Turkish delight is basically corn starch and sugar,” says Chris. “These are made with pureed fruit, pectin, and sugar. That’s it. Now, we’re not saying it’s a healthy confection. It has nine grams of sugar in a square. But people will eat gummy candy and it doesn’t feel good in your tummy. It’s full of corn syrup and the flavours are so-so. Not these. These taste incredible. They pop with flavour.”

The memorable fruit cubes can be served on a charcuterie board, in a salad (like a craisin), in trail mix, or on their own.

In the future, the couple hopes to continue to educate people about wild yeast and this traditional method of baking bread by offering baking classes at the microbakery.

For more information

Local purchasers can find Forgotten Flavours online, on Facebook, or at local craft and food markets. Find them next at Winnipeg’s Scattered Seeds craft market in October and then at Niverville’s Winterfest on November 19.

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