Gordon Woodcock’s and Katie Venner’s passion for fermentation and sourdough has inspired a generation of bakers around the globe. The couple run sourdough and fermenting classes at their artisan wood-fired bakery at Tracebridge, in a beautiful wooded valley above the River Tone as it winds off the Brendon Hills down to the pastures of the Vale of Taunton in Somerset.
“It all began in 2008 when we moved into Rose Cottage,” explains Katie. “I’d left my job in the arts and Gordon, who is a trained carpenter, left his job selling conservatories. Our home is a former quarry cottage for the Tracebridge slate quarry, which operated until the 1930’s and was a focus of life in the parish along with a grain mill and saw mill that straddled the river. We look after the redundant quarry, a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Wood-fired oven & pizza
“We had space for a wood-fired oven in the garden and – as Gordon had always wanted to bake bread in a wood-fired oven – that’s where it started. We made sourdough breads and pastries to sell in the village shop and at the farmers’ market in Wiveliscombe.
“We also opened up our garden to the local community to sample our wood-fired oven pizzas. What started as an impromptu occasional get together has become a local institution and we run pizza nights every Friday from Good Friday to Guy Fawkes.”
Gordon and Katie ran the bakery for eight years until last year and have passed on their knowledge to dozens of bakers from around the world who came either for a few weeks’ work experience through WWOOF or on a two-month apprenticeship.
“Our bakery is built upon the energy and creativity of those people who have passed through our lives, leaving recipes and laughter behind and taking away the confidence to follow their passion and in many cases set up their own bakeries,” says Katie.
Fermented foods & The Archers
About three years ago Katie had problems with her digestion and started looking into how fermented foods could help balance her gut: “I’ve always loved sour tastes and soon became an enthusiast for sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir which we produced and sold alongside the bread,” she explains.
“Back then not many had heard about eating fermented foods to improve digestion and overall health. But now it’s everywhere,” she says “I’ve even been asked to advise the BBC on fermentation for a storyline on the Archers.”
Last year Gordon and Katie decided to focus on sharing their skills in sourdough and fermentation in small classes, so handed over the day-to-day baking to former apprentices Fleur and Adam, helping them to set up White Post bakery about 4 miles away.”
Today, Gordon continues to share his knowledge of wood-fired ovens and sourdough in his popular classes for the home baker, Fleur and Adam teach more experienced bakers advanced sourdough baking, and Katie teaches fermenting and patisserie classes. book here