Ten Years of True Grain Bread

 “The original Cowichan Bay Bakery and its Okanagan sister location celebrate a decade of baking made from freshly milled, local, organic grain.


True Grain Bread is celebrating 10 years of Old World-inspired baking using freshly milled, local, organic grains and handcrafted techniques. Founded in 2004 by Jonathan Knight and bought by current owners Bruce and Leslie Stewart in 2008, the Cowichan Bay business opened a second True Grain Bread, run by Todd Laidlaw, in Summerland in 2012. Both stores are celebrating the anniversary on Saturday, April 12.

At its core, True Grain is all about the bread. Being True to the Grain means starting with seeds that have not been hybridized, engineered or modernized. It means growing that grain organically and as close to home as possible. It means slowly stone milling the kernel at low temperatures to maximize nutrients. It involves leavening the resulting flour slowly instead of using yeast, it means crafting each loaf by hand and it means ONLY selling the bread on the day that it was baked. THAT is True Grain.

left: Cowichan Bay True Grain Bread. right: Summerland True Grain Bread

left: Cowichan Bay True Grain Bread. right: Summerland True Grain Bread

In its commitment to using certified organic sources, True Grain has taken a leadership role with local grain growers. Stewart recalls that a few pioneers were farming grain on Vancouver Island in 2009, producing half a ton of wheat for the bakery. “We’d bake 20 or 30 loaves on a Saturday and run out of local grain before the end of summer.”

But things are getting better, says Stewart. “One of our suppliers, Sloping Hill Farm in Qualicum Beach, became the first certified organic grain farm on Vancouver Island in late 2013. They grow emmer, one of the first grasses cultivated by humans, an ancient variety of grain. Most people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity can tolerate emmer bread.

A basket of fresh baguettes

A basket of fresh baguettes

“Tony and Susan Van Den Tillart [Fieldstone Organics] in Armstrong, B.C., are our primary source for certified organically grown rye and spelt. We get seasonal  ingredients from local sources too—hazelnuts, asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, and Okanagan apples in our strudel.”

Both bakeries mill grain for their loaves all day, every day. The company’s baking team include a pair of German Master Bakers (Bäckermeister) who lead and inspire each team.

“We seek apprentice bakers who want to learn how to hand-scale and carefully craft each loaf,” says Stewart. “It’s a system of tutelage that teaches the baker’s relationship to bread dough, how to make it sing! It’s not easy to do, and it takes a very high skill set.”

An example of True Grain Bread’s commitment to craft is their Red Fife sourdough loaf, a naturally leavened, yeast-free bread that uses a three-day fermentation process. It’s amazing how much flavour is produced from the bread’s three ingredients: Red Fife wheat, filtered water and sea salt.

“Others are tempted to add vinegar to approximate sourdough,” says Stewart. “It’s always tempting to cut corners; we won’t, we’re 100 percent committed to the craft. We also make an array of sweet and savoury baked goods. People love our cinnamon buns, chocolate-almond cookies, spelt cookies, and pretzels, but my personal favourite is the Kopenhagen. It’s a swirled Danish with ground almonds and ground hazelnuts topped with streusel.”

All sweet and savoury items are made with certified organic milk and butter, local farm eggs and certified organic cane sugar. There is no treated or bleached flour, no emulsifiers, margarine or shortening, no genetically modified ingredients, no peanuts or vinegar, no hydrogenated trans-fats, pre-mixes, pre-prepared dough or chemical “pan-release” sprays, no unfiltered water, preservatives, artificial flavours or artificial colours.

They make almost two dozen varieties of bread to equally exacting standards: no sugar or other sweeteners, no dairy, eggs, shortening or other fats (except first cold-pressed olive oil in the bakery’s Italian focaccia and ciabatta), no preservatives, artificial flavouring or colouring. The bakeries are soy- and canola-free.

A selection of organic and hand-crafted breads—Red Fife sourdough, Red Fife hazelnut cracked grain and Khorasan Pumpkinseed.

A selection of organic and hand-crafted breads—Red Fife sourdough, Red Fife hazelnut cracked grain and Khorasan Pumpkinseed.

“When we bought True Grain from Jonathan Knight, we wanted to build upon his vision,” Stewart said. In 2009, he became founding president of Cittaslow Cowichan Bay, the first Cittaslow community in North America. “Our bakery has grown slowly too. I kept Jonathan’s Head Baker for the first year and then brought in our first German Master Baker. Now we have 21 employees at the peak of our summer season and a growing community of farmers supplying ingredients.” After ten years, Vancouver Islanders passionate about food know the quality of their products.

Stewart and Laidlaw chose the former Cake Box Bakery site in downtown Summerland for their second location, centrally located between Kelowna and Penticton. In the first year they were awarded Best New Restaurant, Shop, Cafe in the Okanagan by EAT magazine. “Folks here are just beginning to understand what we do, why we are different, and how amazing our breads taste. Were excited to see what the next 10 years bring.”

By Joseph Blake


1725 Cowichan Bay Rd.,

Cowichan Bay, B.C.




10108 Main St.,

Summerland, B.C.




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