A new start up producing fantastic gluten free rolls and bread mixes from a bespoke craft bakery in Surrey
The upside: Great tasting gluten and dairy free bread which is also preservative free.
The downside: Limited shelf life once baked (but freezes well)
The flipside: A credible textured bread for those seeking 100% gluten free product
When Noels Farm Shop (at Sutton Green Garden Centre) started to sell Grass Roots gluten free bread rolls late in 2015 Noel was keen to share how good they were. Unlike many gluten free bread products on the market the rolls looked great and clearly had texture. Produced just a few miles down the road in a small industrial estate in Woking I popped over to meet the owner and view the bread in production.
Andrea Walsh trained as a bio-chemist having taken a degree in chemistry. This has been essential to her success in this bakery venture and her ability to create a brilliant product and comply with food regulations in the sensitive area of free-from foods. Andrea’s business partner is her husband Steve an inventor of electrical products. The bakery is based within his lab where they created a bespoke sealed production space with brand new equipment. This means that they can be 100% confident that all their products are totally gluten free. This for people who suffer from gluten intolerance or coeliac disease is the reassurance they need. For some people just a small amount of contamination from gluten can have a devastating affects on their health. To find a product that is made in a totally wheat free zone is a real find.
As a family, Andrea and her children are gluten intolerant. Fed up with pappy dry and tasteless bread Andrea decided to make her own. With her science background she was able to replicate the characteristics of traditional bread from a range of gluten free ingredients. A few months of experimenting with different recipes Andrea fine-tuned her recipe. Sampling her new bread with friends they all raved about how good it was and her family loved it too. With such great feedback she decided to share this with others and so the Grass Roots Bakery was born.
Launching the bakery very quietly in June 2015 Andrea sold her bread to a farm shop near Woking where owner Noel had realised that there was a demand for gluten free products and was keen to stock the rolls. Unlike commercially produced gluten free bread (with preservatives) Andrea uses a natural approach to baking and the rolls have only 2 days life from production. Actually when you toast or warm through in the oven even from 3-4 days they are still really delicious but not at their best. However the rolls do freeze really well so freezing what you don’t use straight away is a perfect solution.
I wanted to see the bread in production so in the true spirit of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) we got changed into kitchen whites, put on hairnets (not a great look for me) and went into the bakery. First off its clear how incredibly clean the bakery is with brand new equipment and clearly a meticulous standard of hygiene. Andrea had already weighed out her secret recipe flour and then added oil, water and eggs. Using a giant electric whisk the dough is worked until a soft moist mixture has formed. As there is no gluten involved here it doesn’t need the classic ten-minute work out on the proteins to form the dough. It’s also noticeable that this dough is wetter than one that is wheat based which makes it difficult to handle.
With an inventor for a husband Steve created the perfect solution. Using his electronic skill set he created a device that sucks up the right amount of dough for each roll which can then be deposited on to the baking sheet to rise. This means the rolls are all slightly different shapes; which adds a certain Wallis and Gromit charm to the process. As the dough is wetter and the rolls are large they take around one hour to bake in a medium oven. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay that long but in any case Andrea had already sent me some rolls to try so I knew how good they were.
With a product life of two days it was clear to Andrea that this was going to be an issue for retailers who like a longer shelf life. Her solution was to sell to shops but also offer a bread mix too. All Grass Roots products are available online from the bakery and include white and high fibre rolls in packs of four or twelve and bread mixes. The bread mixes are also sold in two sizes.
Andrea has gone for a soft launch but is hoping to sell her products via farm shops, delis and specialist food shops. To give her products the credibility they need in the free-from market Andrea has spent time making sure her products are safe for her intended user group. Just recently she has received accreditation from Coeliac UK which, for those with gluten intolerance and coeliac disease is a recognised and trusted seal of approval.
I meet a lot of people on my travels in Surrey and in Andrea you couldn’t meet a nicer and more dedicated baker. I love her scientific approach, which has helped enormously in the creation of a great product range. The gluten free bread market is a tough nut to crack but they have definitely created a winning formula here.