We are a small business, and often we get emails asking the same questions about attending the school, and I am not often found sitting at my desk because I am either teaching, baking or filming so we’ve added the answer to the things people most often ask us about attending a course here in the frequently asked questions below.
Simply click on the question to read the answer.
Where is The Sourdough School Based?
Vanessa’s Sourdough bread making classes are a world away from the hustle and bustle in a pretty village just 4 miles north of Northamptonshire – which is possibly one of the most easily accessible counties in England. We are within an hours reach of London, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Leicester and Birmingham, which is just 15 – 20 minutes form the M1, the M6 and the A14.
Driving distances to The Sourdough School
- London 75 miles via M1
- Cambridge 55 miles via A14
- Oxford 48 miles via A43
- Birmingham 53 miles via M6
- Manchester 135 miles via M6
The train station is also only a 15 minute taxi ride away, making it really easy to get to us from London on the train.
There are regular trains from London Euston and Birmingham to Northampton.
Central London – trains go directly from London Euston station to Northampton station and take about 55 minutes. A taxi to the school from Northampton station takes about 15 minutes.
If there is ever a problem with the Euston to Northampton line, trains also run from St Pancreas to Wellingborough and Market Harborough both of which are about a 20 minute taxi drive away.
Birmingham – trains go from Birmingham to Long Buckby station and take about 40 minutes. A taxi from Long Buckby station to the school is about 15-20 minutes. Long Buckby is a rural station so there are no black cabs here.
Check www.nationalrail.co.uk for train times. We are about 15 – 20 minutes away from the station by car, dependent on traffic.
Taxi service from the Train station. We have a super taxi service called KPD Taxis with a set fee of £13.50 (week days) or £15 (weekends) to bring students to the school. If there is more than one student traveling then they will bring you all at the same time, and will advise you regarding the lower fare. To use this taxi service call 01604 882798 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Other Northampton taxi companies are:
Amber Cars – 01604 232666 https://www.ambercarsnorthampton.com/
Ace Cars – 01604 719697
Bounds – 01604 626262
Phoenix Class – 01604 222222
We would advise that you pre-book a taxi to take you from the train station to the school, and vice versa. Black cabs at the train station are more expensive.
The closest airports are –
Birmingham – there are regular trains direct from the airport to Long Buckby (about 40 minutes). Then take a taxi to the school (approximately 15 minutes). You will need to pre-book a taxi as this is a small rural train station and there is no taxi rank.
Luton – the quickest option is to take a taxi from the airport (approximately 50 minutes) – we have used Skyways Cars before. The most affordable option is the National Express bus service to Northampton town centre which takes about 1 hour 15 minutes. Then take a taxi or the X7 bus from the bus station to the school. The bus stop at the top of Pitsford village is about a 10-15 minute walk to the school. You can book National Express bus journeys online.
East Midlands – a taxi from the airport will take a little under an hour. National Express runs two buses each weekday, the journey to Northampton town centre takes either 2 hours 15 minutes or 2 hours 50 minutes depending on which service you take. You will then need to take a taxi or an X7 bus from Northampton town centre to the school.
Stanstead – trains run every 20 minutes from Stansted to Tottenham Hale underground from where you can get an underground train to London Euston. Overland trains from Euston run hourly to Northampton. You can then take a taxi or the X7 bus from the bus station to the school. The train station is about a 15 minute walk to the bus station.
Heathrow – trains via Euston London take about an hour to Northampton railway station. To get to Euston from Heathrow follow signs for the London Underground, take the Piccadilly Line to Green Park, then the Victoria Line to Euston. Allow an hour to get from Heathrow to Euston.
Or you can just take the Piccadilly Line straight to Kings Cross St. Pancras and walk to Euston (about ten minutes). From Northampton train station to get to the school you will need to take a taxi (about 15-20 minutes). If you can pre-book a taxi it will be cheaper.
Alternatively you can take a bus to Watford Junction and then the train to Northampton (both run hourly) this takes 2¼ hours.
When you are booking flights around a course at The Sourdough School, please allow plenty of time for travel between the school and the airport.
There is a stagecoach service which will drop off at the main road on the A508 which is about a 10 – 15 minute walk into the village here – please contact me for more details of which stop is best to get off at. You will need the X7 bus.
Address for a detailed map and the address please email email@example.com
There is plenty of parking and you can expect a warm welcome.
What is the address & directions
The Sourdough School Ltd, East Bank House, Moulton Road, Pitsford.
Please use PITSFORD as your destination.
Using the SatNavs post code will take you 150 yards up the road or to the wrong village.
- From the A508 drive all the way through the village until you come to the first bend. Look for the two white cottages on the right hand side as you go around the bend there is an old blue five bar gate before the zigzags of the zebra crossing.
- Coming from Moulton village we are the first gate on the left hand side after Drummond Close and before the white cottages. The gate is where the zig zags of the zebra crossing end.
Please park considerately.
What should I bring with me?
This is list of things you must do and BRING with you.
- Please bring The Sourdough School published by Kyle Cathie. Like any learning experience if you can read the book before you come on a course you will learn so much more.
- YOU MUST Fill out the an application to attend the school with your information and food preferences online if you do not you are NOT BOOKED until you do so. We cannot teach you without this information for a fire register, allergies and emergency contact details
- PRINT this document to bring with you.
- Ensure the you have booked a taxi home after the workshop finishes.
- Check your arrival time. Do not turn up early (unless you have arranged to go for a walk with Vanessa before the workshop starts)
- Bring indoor shoes (and shoes suitable for walking outdoors)
- Bring any other of Vanessa's books that you would like signing.
- 2 x 200ml pots with a lid and a small bottle with lid in case you make pickles or jam or ferments and you want to takes some home.
- A large bag to take your new things home in.
- A torch – essential in the winter, as it gets very dark.
- If it is not you coming on the course then please give this document to the person coming on the course and make sure you have registered the right person attending.
What if I don't want buy the book? We will have one spare you can use. It is not totally essential the you have one, but it is shame not to because I refer to it frequently as so many people have bought it before then attend a course that we stopped adding to to the cost of the course.
Where can I buy the book?
Either from our website, a signed copy or you can buy copy of The Sourdough School book from Amazon if you prefer, but please note we don't always have them in stock here..
Simply you will learn so much more if you have a copy with you.
Do you recommend anywhere to stay?
- Often our students are traveling from abroad and meeting bakers from around the world is very sociable so we suggest that students stay nearby at Sedgebrook Hall.
- The Hall is set in beautiful grounds and is walking distance (about a 15 - 20 minute walk about mile away from the school) and has a restaurant and bar, and a small gym and swimming pool.
- We have arranged a discount code for our students. Please use code SOURDOU for the same online 10% discount but no payment required at booking.
- We do advise that you BOOK your accommodation as soon as you have booked your place on the course, as there are often events in the area.
- Although it is walking distance we also suggest that you do not walk this route in the winter months as it gets dark from October until May and it is a rural road with fast traffic. We often find that students arrange shared transport to and from the school, when they say in the same accommodation, but as this is a private arrangement between individuals, and we therefore leave this entirely up to individuals to organise themselves should they so wish. However there is list of taxi companies in this Q & A if you wish to book transport.
- We do have other recommended accommodation options here if needed - a full list of accommodation in the area.
What Else is there to do in the area?
We have compiled a list of things do and places to visit if you are bringing someone with you or staying for longer.
A list of local Taxi companies
- KPD 01604 882798 firstname.lastname@example.org
- AMBER CARS 01604 232666 We also use Amber taxis – 01604 232666 https://www.ambercarsnorthampton.com/
We have noticed that the Black cabs from the train station can cost a lot more and often cannot find us. Also please book your return taxi! We are slightly outside of the town and sometimes taxis are not available at busy times at short notice.
You are free to use any taxi service you like so other Northampton taxi companies are:
Ace Cars – 01604 719697
Bounds taxis – 01604 626262
Phoenix Class – 01604 222222
Often Students want to arrange taxi sharing, or lifts with other students, but we are not able to be involved. This is at your own risk. This is a personal arrangement between people attending the course please be aware that we hold no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any arrangements made privately.
What happens if I need help with my baking when I get home?
One of the benefits of being a student at The Sourdough School is the ongoing support we provide so that you can continue your sourdough journey with confidence after you have studied with us. This is important, because when you leave the school your learning has only just begun, and every time you bake you will learn more about the process.
Part of this support is the ability to have a conversation with Vanessa about your sourdough baking. There may be times when things aren’t going as you would like, and you really need some help in identifying the problem. Vanessa is often able to do this, but it is important that you provide her with a full set of information so that she can work through the problem with you. To make this easier she has developed a Loaf Analysis Form, which guides you through gathering all the information she needs. Using your answers to the questions on the form, she is usually able to diagnose the problem and advise you on how to fix it. It gives her a starting point and also acts as an invaluable tool for your own records.
If you feel you have a sourdough problem that would benefit from a chat with Vanessa, the first thing to do is read through the Loaf Analysis Form here. Answer all of the questions. This does take some time but the more information you can provide, the more Vanessa has to work on. You will also need to upload photos of your starter, leaven and loaf – the form gives full details of what’s needed. Once you have completed the form, the information can be sent to Vanessa and you can arrange a convenient time to go through it.
How do I get my sourdough starter home?
Many of our students ask me about the practicalities of taking their sourdough starters home with them. They have travelled from all over the world to visit the school, so it’s only natural that they have concerns about getting their starter back home. But in fact, it’s very straightforward. Sourdough starters, when they are refreshed correctly, can remain out of the fridge for between 24 and 36 hours, as long as they are kept at a regular temperature. This means that most journeys can be accomplished between refreshments… if not, it’s very easy to maintain your starter while still on the road (or train, or plane!)
When you leave the school, we supply you with a small pot which contains 80g of sourdough starter. We also give you a bag for the starter to travel in. We refresh the starter on the last day of the course before you leave, to ensure it’s at the optimum point and ready to travel home. We also supply small bags of flour, so if anybody needs to continue refreshing their sourdough starter for a few days before they go home or on the journey, then they are able to do so. Keeping your starter healthy is a very simple process, and will be fully explained on the course. But essentially, to refresh your starter you take ¾ (60g) of the starter out of the 80g we give you. Then stir 35g of water and 25g of flour into the remaining ¼. All you'll need is a small spoon or, at a push, you can use your fingers for mixing. This ratio of flour and water keeps your starter slightly thicker than you would normally have it, which slows down the rate at which the bacteria consume their food source.
There are a couple of considerations to bear in mind when you are travelling – the main one to remember is that your sourdough starter is still fermenting, and is going to be producing gas. It’s worth opening the lid every few hours to release these. If you forget, the worst that can happen is that the gases build up and pop the lid so that a little of it spills out into the plastic bag. This isn’t really a problem because you can simply wash the starter out of the plastic bag when you get home, although you will only need 20-25g of it to refresh anyway.
Taking your sourdough on an aeroplane.
I don’t recommend keeping the bags of flour in your hand luggage, because more than likely you will be stopped and have it tested at the airport. But I do prefer to carry my starter in hand luggage. It can safely travel in the hold. It will get cold, but certainly shouldn’t come to any harm. If you decide to take it in your hand luggage, remember that it will be subject to the restrictions on liquids and gels, so don’t try to carry too much. I also find it helps to clearly label the container or bag with the contents… if nothing else it can lead to some interesting conversations at security!
It’s really not a problem to travel with your sourdough starter. I’ve taken mine all over the world. In fact, the sourdough starter you will be leaving The Sourdough School with is part of a starter that has already been all over Europe, as well as to India and the USA. So we’re sharing a very well-travelled starter with you!
What are the Course Start time & End Times?
Most days we run 10am - 6pm HOWEVER each course has it's own schedule so please be sure to check your PDF that has been emailed to you as this will have the start times for your individual course.
Courses start on time however... it is VERY important NOT TO TURN UP EARLY. The arrival time is fixed. 10am.
Time is needed to prepare for the course, and the last 10 or 15 minutes is a bit like having a dinner party, and getting everything in order and myself ready is unbelievably hectic.
If being early is completely unavoidable please let me know 2 days in advance.
Courses finish at 6pm. We recommend you book taxis at 6:15 to allow for a few minutes if we over run.
It takes about 20 minutes to get to the train station in Northampton.
Tea and coffee?
We have lots of choice and a help yourself policy.
Is there a Vegetarian or Vegan option for Lunch
We have almost all of our lunch menu recipes listed on the website.
Please do ensure that you check out the recipes for any allergies.
We occasionally serve local seasonal smoked, or preserved fish or meat, in general lunch is simple, home-made, seasonal, and based around the bread we are eating.
Almost all cheeses are British and unpasteurised, so please do let me know if you are not able to eat unpasteurised cheese. With a few days notice we can provide alternatives.
First aid and allergies
We are not a nut free environment.
We respectfully ask that students bring medication if they have serious allergies or are allergic to animals. We do keep them out of the way but all the same, we still need to ensure medication is on hand, just in case.
I am a trained St Johns Ambulance first-aider, please let me know of any other medical conditions on the day if they are not detailed on the booking form.
Can I take Photographs?
Our policy about sourdough social media is to celebrate and share while respecting the preferences of all students and members of the team here at the school.
We are sensitive to both those who love social media and also those that don’t. You are welcome to take photos of the bread and other bakes, but please avoid photographing people unless you have their consent.
Vanessa prefers not to be photographed except in some group shots. She is however, happy to provide a range of photos which can be used within the WhatsApp group.
Photos in the classroom and garden are fine, but not our living space. No photos of the children please (unless I expressly give permission).
If you have any complaints, worries or loaves not turning out as you want, then do please address to me at the time not broadcast to thousands first...
Do I really need a Sourdough School Book?
Yes. You will really enjoy the course so much more of you have a copy of ‘The Sourdough School’ book. We use it throughout the course.
Why don't we include them in the course?
Well it got just so complicated trying to arrange books because so many students already have a copy of our book, and I can't buy it for less than Amazon. Unbelievably, Amazon is often much less expensive than we can even buy the book for ourselves from the publisher, so we decided to ask students to bring their own or let us know and we will have some here to buy.
Please note, however, that if you can read the book and familiarise your self with the stage of making sourdough then you will get allot more form the course.
If you really don't want to buy one you can borrow a school copy and use my online teaching notes when you get home.
Are there any copies of your other books?
Generally there are copies of my book ‘Food for Thought’ to buy but we rarely have ‘Prepped’ stocked so please feel free to bring your own copies if you’d like them signing. Again these are much less expensive if you buy them online as I have to pay wholesale prices when we buy them.
Yes .. we have pets
The Pets are part of the Staff. The dogs bark to alert us that there are people here, and the cats keep the mice away, so we don't need poison or traps in an old property.
This is also home.
I have one cat in particular who does love to try and make himself comfortable, and dogs, chickens and wildlife.
The dogs are NOT allowed in the school and not in the food prep areas under any circumstances, although as many might appreciate cats do not know boundaries.
We politely request that guests do not encourage the animals into the school as we have them trained not to come in. I often leave the dogs out in the garden until the last 5 minutes before the course start time for some fresh air and my terrier is a rescue dog and not friendly. Please do not fuss the terrier.
If you have an allergy we will do our best to keep the pets away, however, we ask that you bring any medication that you need as we cannot promise that they will not set allergies off.
Is there time and space for prayer or meditation?
Baking in very spiritual and we respect everyones beliefs.
We have people travelling from all over the world and make time and space for religious and spiritual needs – please let us know if you need anything specific. We have a small quiet room upstairs, a shower room, and full of bread books that is available, we are able to lock the dogs away whilst people are arriving or leaving, and we are able to accommodate somewhere separate to sit within the bakery away from alcohol should we be serving.
PLEASE READ – Safe working practices, Tidiness, Clothing & Jobs
When you arrive you will be asked to put your personal belongings upstairs. The School is a relaxed space for baking and learning. As a small business however, we have to have health and safety procedures so we have an office where all bags, coats, hats and personal belongings need to be stored out of the way.
All students are required to wear an apron, and have no rings on hands unless a simple wedding band.
Whilst baking please have hair tied back.
We have a separate hand basin for hand washing. This is NOT for washing utensils.
NO personal belongings, clothing or bag in the school except your phone or medicine please.
Over the years I have noticed that accidents tend to happen when things get cluttered. We have to clear the table several times over the day, and each student has an apple crate as a locker, and is responsible for making sure that their utensils, cup and bowls are washed and put away whilst baking and when finished with.
You will need to keep your working area clear and it is requested that you tuck in stools under the table when baking as people can trip over them.
On arrival we are all allocated one small job to make sure that the bakery stays ship shape throughout the day. It is very calm and comfortable, so I ask that students make themselves at home, but also to be mindful of the working space.
I am St Johns Ambulance advanced first aider trained.
Is there any continued support when I get home?
Yes! We offer continued support and encourage students to share their experiences through the WhatsApp group.
In addition, once you sign up for a course you will be given 12 months membership of The Sourdough Club. This gives you access to Vanessa's notes and teaching. Sign up for the club using the code sent to you in your booking acknowledgement email.
We have several researchers that work for the School and the papers are available on request. All the studies though, are listed and reference and summarised on the sourdough club pages.
What can you expect when you come to a course?
You can expect a warm welcome, and to work hard and learn plenty. It's fun and small groups make friends. It is however a big commitment both financially and in time, so it is important for you to research your week thoroughly. We are always happy to answer questions, but there are a few things we can share to fill in any gaps.
What do we expect from you?
Well it is fair to say that we hope for lovely people, who want to learn everything we can teach you about sourdough. We need you to be punctual, be well prepared, with long hair tied back, short finger nails, with a full apron and raring to go.
We also expect our students to continue their baking when they get home, which is why we have The Sourdough Club and give feedback and support long after the course had finished.
What should I expect on a Diploma Course?
Whist the teaching will centre on every aspect of sourdough bread and there will still be time to savour your bread, to relax, to breathe deeply and just lose yourself in long, slow fermentation and in the beauty of winter in our rural Northamptonshire setting. We will try to incorporate a walk into each day’s schedule, weather permitting.
- You will have some free time in the evenings, and there is the opportunity to walk, cycle, visit the local pubs, or pop in the local cheese mongers and bakery, and we arrange a visit to the local vineyard.
- The course aim is to give you the confidence and know-how to bake your own homemade, artisan, sourdough loaves.
- It will be a fun week, full of information, demonstrations and baking.
- All participants will receive a certificate of attendance. Once you have booked a full schedule will be sent to you.
Will I make the perfect loaf?
Something to bear in mind. It took many years to master Sourdough. It is an art and sourdough is wild. Fermentation is unpredictable at times and many students often arrive with very high expectations. Often people show me loaves they want to make by bakers that have baked over 500,000 loaves. Yes they are amazing. However, it takes years to really master sourdough. It is like learning to play a musical instrument, and although you will attend a course for a few days or even a week, it takes most bakers a three year apprenticeship to learn to bake sourdough and even now 35 year on I am still learning every time I bake.
Be ready to learn. On the day sometimes things don’t always go according to plan... although mostly it does; It is somewhat ironic but we learn more from the mistakes that we do the successes.
What you will learn here is not just to follow a recipe, you will learn core principles and to trust your senses, to have an understanding and a sense of rhythm, timing and connection, to the dough and the process of making bread. You will make great bread and learn everything you need to know to be in a position to practice with knowledge.
Then it is up to you to bake. Over and over again.
That is the joy - the journey.
Is there anywhere to park?
There is lots of parking nearby as we are in a small rural village in a residential area. You can park all day for free. I do however have neighbours that are visually impaired and another neighbour who needs wheelchair access on the pavements. Unfortunately in the past we have had several students park inconsiderately which caused upset to both my neighbours and my students, who have had to leave during the class to re-park their cars. so please do park considerately.
We are also doing works on our driveway so parking on our driveway is not possible.
Occasionally you find spaces on the opposite side of the road to the school, but there have been a few instance of wing mirrors being knocked off as people drive too fast around the corner, so I suggest parking either on the High Street before you reach the Griffin Pub and walk about 50 yards down and round the corner to us, or try parking further down and round to the left by the church, or on Manor Road, all just 1–2 minutes walk away from the school.
Does Vanessa teach abroad?
At the moment Vanessa teaches exclusively at The Sourdough School. There are many reasons for this. At the school we have everything set up to deliver the level and standard of courses that are expected. The classroom space we use has been specially designed to accommodate our students and allow Vanessa to teach in a comfortable and welcoming environment.
Having lived in the area for many years, Vanessa has long established connections with the local farmers and producers. This is reflected in the samples that she gives to students on the course, and the incredible lunches provided, which are made with locally sourced food (some of it from Vanessa’s own garden). The school is also certified organic. So everything that we use here has been selected very carefully to be a part of the teaching experience.
And, of course, Vanessa is a mother to three children and a wife. Teaching from her home give her the flexibility to fit the work she loves around her family life.
Vanessa does occasionally speak at international conferences on the subject of nutrition and digestibility. If you would like to discuss the possibility of Vanessa speaking at an event, please get in contact via the school's commercial director (Alastair@sourdough.co.uk) to check availability and costs. It’s also important to remember that when asking Vanessa to attend you will need to be able to cover flights, accommodation, transport and a speaker’s fee.
Do you post your book internationally?
Yes, we can send The Sourdough School book to international students. Our online shop is managed by the lovely people at Bakery Bits who are all set up to send products around the world.
If you are ordering from overseas, please ensure you provide a contact telephone number because this is required by the delivery companies.
Can you recommend somewhere to eat in the evening?
You will be quite tired and sometimes quite full a the end of each day, and you are most welcome to take home some of the leftovers from lunch, however it is also lovely to go out in the evening, and there are lots of amazing places to eat. And because they are so good, we would always suggest that you book in advance to avoid disappointment.
These are some of our favourites –
The Althorp Coaching Inn, Great Brington
With oak beams, flagstone floors and a roaring log fire, The Althorp Coaching Inn is all you would expect from a traditional village pub. This 16th century coaching inn, just 7 miles from the school, is a listed stone and thatch building. It has a courtyard, an enclosed garden and a beautiful, vintage-style barn. The inn specialises in quality British food, real ales and fine wines. The menu ranges from bar meals to classic restaurant dishes, made from locally sourced ingredients wherever possible.
Phone: 01604 770651
The Griffin Inn, Pitsford
The Griffin Inn is a proper village pub, and at the centre of our village community. A selection of local ales are served along-side delicious home-cooked pub favorites – they have a steak menu, chef’s specials boards, light lunch options, and then there’s the chef’s legendary traditional Sunday roast.
Phone: 01604 880346
The White Horse at Old
Travel past Pitsford Water from the Sourdough School and you will arrive in Old, a small village with The White Horse at the centre. The seasonal menu offers a range of delicious dishes, with daily specials and plenty of choice for vegetarians. There are also artisan pizzas, baked in an outdoor wood-fired oven. Many of the dishes can be served in child sized portions for younger diners. The pub stocks a good range of craft beers and heritage ciders too. Check their website for details of the monthly quiz nights and live music.
Phone: 01604 781297
The Red Lion, Main Street, East Haddon
A cosy thatched pub in a peaceful, idyllic village surrounded by picturesque Northamptonshire countryside. The Red Lion specialises in serving great British food, cooked using local seasonal produce. The pub has an intimate lounge, a large dining room and manicured gardens, and is just 6 miles from The Sourdough School.
Phone: 01604 770223
The Artichoke, Church Street, Moulton
The Artichoke is one of the closest pubs to the school. It specialises in food cooked using quality, local ingredients. Their meat is sourced from the local butcher’s, sausages from Mike’s pigs of Moulton, and the vegetables are delivered daily. This Grade II listed building dates back to 1680 and the owners think it was originally a farmhouse and village inn. It has a lovey, private and dog-friendly garden with plenty of seating for guests. There is regular live entertainment, including quizzes, jazz nights and fold nights.
Phone: 01604 643941
How do I get to take part in your Research Courses?
Next year I'll be beginning a new and exciting project here at The Sourdough School.
I’m doing a Masters in Research which will form the basis for my PhD in Nutrition & digestion of Bread. This is research, in the form of dietary intervention studies, will contribute significantly to the growing discussion about how the fermentation process in producing bread is significant in it's effect on microbial population, diversity and supporting a healthy gut micobiome.
This has never been done before.
All the studies so far have been carried on in vitro or in mice. This is the real deal. We are looking at how sourdough affect the human gut microbiome, and what changes occur when you ferment your bread.
It has huge implications, not least because with know and understand
Why deliver the course online?
Firstly due to the fact that so many people have already expressed an interest from all over the world we didn't feel i t was fair to have to restrict this to just local participants. Sourdough is a bread baked internationally. Secondly the cost of the taking part is significantly lower. Lastly we can include more people in the research, so the results are more reliable.
How is the course and the tests delivered?
It is two parts. You get a home study pack delivered directly to your door, with everything you need in the pack and you follow the step by step online tutorials online.
Each group be asked to bake a specific delicious and nutritious sourdough bread at home for an allocated length of time and you will be the first to find out the results of your gut microbial analysis, any changes and the implications.
Why do we have to pay to participate?
This is still a course, and delivered in the same way as the ones we teach normally. This is just a very special course, that becomes part of a research study. The tests themselves are very expensive, although they are totally FREE to the participants, we feel that a mutual commitment is needed, and this is quite a commitment, involving baking and bread over several months.
- What is in it for me?
- You will learn to make a specific bread that will have all the techniques needed to make amazing sourdough.
- You will have the results and feedback of your gut microbial composition and find out how it is affected by eating sourdough.
- You will be participating in research that will change the way we understand sourdough and our health. It's cutting edge research into one of our most important foods.
- We will share our knowledge in terms that can be understood by everyone.
Will I be named?
- Everyone's results will be confidential and you will be given a number, rather than be identified by name. However you can enjoy participating in the discussion of the study on social media. It is not a secret, but we are obliged to keep individuals makes and results anonymous. You of course can share your participation - that is up to you.
- There are a limited number of places to participate in The Masters in Research course, and anticipate initially that each group with have between 20 - 30 participants.
- Each student will need to agree to give basic health details (weight, blood pressure, etc.) about themselves and send in samples regularly for a gut microbe analysis . The fruit project will be looking at comparing the gut microbiome before and after baking and eating sourdough.
If you’re interested in joining this course, please sign up to our newsletter as we will be sending out the opportunity to participate in this research next term. ( Autumn Winder 2018)
Will there be any more Sourdough Sisters?
Our intention is to run Sourdough Sisters as an annual event. The applications for next year will open in early 2019, and the course will run in summer 2019. Unfortunately, we are not able to run these courses abroad. Vanessa teaches exclusively at The Sourdough School, because this is where all her resources are, and where her organic certification and insurance are valid.
Should you wish to apply for the next Sourdough Sisters please sign up for our newsletter and we will send more information as soon as it is available.
Do I have a gluten allergy?
I’m often contacted by people looking for advice about gluten allergies or intolerance.
My first response is always that if you suspect you may have a gluten allergy or may be coeliac, you must see a GP to get a diagnosis.
Although I have spent many years researching the digestibility of sourdough, I am not qualified to diagnose any of the medical conditions which can cause symptoms similar to gluten allergy.
There are numerous reasons why people have digestive malaise when eating bread, but we do know that many people find that they can eat sourdough without any issues.
Gluten intolerances and allergies are widely blamed for symptoms such as bloating, constipation and other digestive discomfort. In some cases rather than gluten, it is a range of naturally occurring sugars (known as FODMAPS) that are the root of the problem. There are also suggestions that the modern, industrial bread making process has led to the rise in people adopting a gluten free diet. Many people find sourdough easier to digest, and that they can eat it without experiencing any discomfort.
One of the most debilitating conditions associated with wheat is coeliac disease, an auto-immune condition triggered by gliadin, a component of gluten. Although there is some initial evidence suggesting that sourdough might be suitable for coeliacs to eat, this evidence was a small trial and gathered under medical supervision, which is very different from buying a lao from a bakery or baking your own. I do not recommend people with coeliac disease to eat sourdough, because it’s not possible to guarantee that the gluten is broken down sufficiently to that loaf is free from raw flour, which may be on the outside of the loaf and may trigger a reaction. There are gluten free sourdough's made with rice flour or potato flour, but this is not an area I work in at present. We do not teach anyone who is coeliac to make sourdough.
If you want to come to come on one of our courses, but think you may have a gluten allergy, please talk with your doctor first. You will get much more from the course if you have a diagnosis. Different conditions can be approached in different ways, and I can teach you the best fermentation technique and recommend the best flour choice for your specific condition.
The most important thing is to address the issue of a potential allergy or other medical condition before you book a course. Allergic reactions are very rare, but can be serious. If you have an immune response that comes to light during the course, we will ask you to seek advice from a doctor before you can continue.
Which flours do you recommend?
I have written an article which looks at the choice of flour for sourdough baking. In it I talk about how grain variety, grain quality, and milling all affect the properties of a flour.
We regularly use flour from Marriages, Doves Farm and Gilchesters Organics here at the school. Each of these mills offers a range of flours suitable for bread baking. You can buy them through Bakery Bits, and some of these flours are available in supermarkets and independent grocery stores. We also recommend using Farine de Gruau T45 from Foricher flour for refreshing a white sourdough starter… in fact, we provide a bag of this flour as part of our White Sourdough Starter Kit.
The important thing to remember in choosing a flour is to take time to become familiar with it. Bake regularly with the same flour and keep records of your bakes. This way you will soon learn how best to use each flour and which ones suit your baking style.
Do you offer work experience?
We often get asked if we are able to offer work experience here at The Sourdough School. Unfortunately we have to say no. We’re a small school, and because of fire regulations are only able to have a limited number of people in the kitchen at any one time. The classes we run are almost always fully booked which means, once you add in the tutors, we are at capacity. Of course, we very much welcome people coming here to learn to make sourdough, but I’m afraid we really do have to limit it to students who book on a course.
Saying that, do ask around. I began my baking career volunteering in a small French bakery. So I would advise anyone looking for work experience that it’s definitely worth persevering. One of my recommendations for people who want work experience in baking sourdough is to ask at your local bakery – there’s often much more practice to be had in a bakery where they are making hundreds of loaves every day. Just keep asking… that’s how I got my first work experience. Having started my baking career with work experience, I would really encourage anyone to do this. But unfortunately we just cannot accommodate volunteers here.
How do I subscribe to The Sourdough School newsletter?
Our newsletter is a great way to find out about the latest happenings and offers at The Sourdough School, and is packed with recipes and baking tips. It’s also the best way to find out about new courses as soon as they are opened for booking.
You can add your email in the ‘Subscribe Here’ page. Simply enter your email address, click the button and you’re subscribed, and you will the first to know about what we are up to.
Do you offer online courses?
For students who are unable to attend a sourdough course at The Sourdough School we have developed The Sourdough Club, your one-stop shop for everything sourdough related.
The club gives you access to step-by-step lessons, including videos, lots of sourdough information and formulas, and, for those who really want to immerse themselves in the science, links to research into sourdough and the gut microbiome.
Full details of how to join The Sourdough Club can be found here.
Can I buy sourdough starter?
You can buy some of the sourdough starter we use here at the school through our online shop. We recommend the White Sourdough Starter Kit, which contains all the information you need to keep your new starter active and healthy.
The sourdough starter is carefully nurtured here at The Sourdough School, and we make sure it is sent out in peak condition. Starters are sent out twice a month, and advise that they should be refreshed as soon as they arrive.
Where can I get your Sourdough School book?
You can order a signed copy of the Sourdough School book through our online shop.
Can you sign my book personally for me?
We are really sorry but at this point in time it just isn’t possible for Vanessa to write a personal dedication when you buy a copy of The Sourdough School book.
Due to the volume of books sold, the books are signed and sent in the distribution warehouse so we can send them all over the world. There is no system to allocate an individual book, and Vanessa's work commitments simply don't give her the time to sign, wrap, and take individual books to the post office, but you can buy a signed copy through our online shop.
If you sign up to our mailing list we will let you know when Vanessa is doing a book signing though.
We are looking into ways to include individual dedications, but for now the only way Vanessa can sign your book in person is if you book a course.
Is The Sourdough School book available in any other languages?
Yes, the book has been published in German, Italian, Croatian and Spanish. There will be a US edition published in September 2018. For anyone who is struggling to get the book in their language, I’m sure there will be more editions coming out. But for now these are the languages it is available in, generally you will find this on the amazon listing in the country of publication, however you might need to search under the name Vanessa Kimbell as the title will have been translated.
Do I get a certificate when I attend a course?
Yes. Each student receives a personalised, signed certificate to confirm they have attended a course at The Sourdough School.
Students on the diploma courses are awarded a certificate once they have demonstrated they understand all the principles that have been taught, and are able to apply these in producing a sourdough loaf. At the end of the course, students complete a worksheet and undergo a practical assessment. This is definitely not an exam! But we do take the certification quite seriously so that each student can celebrate the fact that they have a diploma from The Sourdough School. We are here to guide you through the whole course and ensure that every student leaves the school confident and equipped to bake the most delicious sourdough bread.
Are the courses suitable for professional bakers?
We often get asked if our courses are suitable for professional bakers, or if they are designed solely for the home baker. The courses we offer teach the principles of everything you need to know about sourdough, whether you are a domestic or a professional baker. There are, of course, differences between the two - mainly in scheduling and quantities. But the principles and timings that underpin sourdough baking can be applied equally to a home kitchen or commercial bakery.
Vanessa trained and worked as a professional baker, so she is very conscious of scheduling and timings when working with large quantities. She is more than happy to discuss this as she is teaching. During the course we work with 1kg quantities. These can, of course, easily be scaled up in a professional bakery, because we are working with baker’s percentages and ratios.
So yes, absolutely, the principles we teach at The Sourdough School are very much applicable to professional bakeries. But please bear in mind that this is classroom-based teaching, and some specific tips and techniques that might be useful in a professional setting will not be demonstrated during the course.
Can you answer some questions I have about my sourdough baking?
Unfortunately Vanessa is not able to answer individual questions that are emailed.
We receive up to 20 questions a day from home bakers looking for advice. Some of these involve very detailed explanations of what they are doing with their starter and their dough. Whilst we appreciate that people want help with their sourdough, we are a small business and simply don’t have the capacity to answer individual questions… there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
Generally we offer the following advice to those contacting us -
Vanessa’s book, The Sourdough School, is a comprehensive guide to sourdough, based on her years of baking experience. Reading the step by step introduction to sourdough, and working through the recipes will give you lots of baking practice and should help answer many of the question you have.
Consider booking onto one of our 12 month online courses with tuition from Vanessa. There are three courses available, each one suitable for different levels of baking experience. The cost of the course includes a sourdough starter and a ceramic pot to keep it in, 12 months of guided tuition through a wealth of online material, and two skype calls with Vanessa to discuss your progress at key points during the course. These calls are a chance to learn, get lots of baking tips and ask any questions you might have regarding your own sourdough baking.
Do we have international students?
Over the years we have welcome students from all over the world to the school. Our diploma courses are especially popular with international students. In the past few years we have had students from Europe, the Middle East, North and South America, Asia, and Australasia. It makes for a wonderful mix of cultures and languages in the kitchen while we bake!
If you are travelling to the school from overseas, we can give you access to information on how to get here and where to stay, once you have booked your course.
What is the maximum number of students that attend a course?
My preferred number of students for most courses is 9, especially for the Diploma courses.
This is a good balance between having enough people to fill the kitchen and bring plenty of questions and enthusiasm to the course, while still being able to ensure that everyone gets the individual attention they might need.
There have been courses where we have taught up to 12 people. It really depends on the length of the course, the techniques we’re teaching and the recipes being used. Occasionally for some more academic courses we teach twelve, however this is the maximum number of people we can accommodate and is for demonstration and discussion rather then hands on; even with 12 the class size is still small.
If a course is shown as fully booked on the website we may, in exceptional circumstances, be able to accommodate an extra student. In this case, you would need to speak directly to Vanessa (email@example.com) so that she can decide whether she feels able to offer you a place on the course.
Is there a waiting list for the courses?
We deliberately limit the number of students on our courses.
This is so we can ensure there is time for each student to get some individual attention, and we can tailor the tuition to the interests of a small group. But it does mean that classes get booked up very quickly, and not everyone can get a place on the course they want. We do keep a waiting list for courses once they are fully booked but, to be honest, we find that students rarely drop out once they have booked.
If you have tried to book a particular course but have found that it is already full, there are a number of options you might like to consider…
Firstly, you can add your name to the waiting list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, stating your name and the course you are interested in.
Alternatively you might like to join The Sourdough Club. This gives you access to step-by-step lessons, including videos, and a lot of sourdough-related information. Membership of The Sourdough Club brings you into our international community of sourdough bakers, and allows you to learn in your own kitchen at a pace that suits you.
What is included in a Course?
What is included:
All food and drinks whilst at the school are provided. We will be eating sourdough, local cheeses and simple, delicious homemade food for lunch, and enjoying a glass of award-winning wine from the local vineyard or our own sourdough beer.
You will only need to bring a few essentials, your favourite apron, and a large basket to take your bread, your bakes and several other bits and pieces home with you, 3 x 200g tupperware containers with lids to take jam, cultured butter and pickles home (please ensure they are sterile and odourless) and a small plastic bottle (an empty water bottle is good) to take syrups home.
International students please allow space in your luggage to take many items back with you.
Diploma Students you need to bring a pair of trainers or shoes to walk in, something warm to wear and a flask – we will fill it with hot tea. If you want to cycle then please bring something appropriate to wear – the route is some tarmac and a well-used track, but it can be muddy in places.
Please note that we are also mindful that some people want to avoid alcohol, and we have a separate table available, that is still very sociable to eat at.
What is not included:
Students are responsible for:
- Your accommodation
- Transport to and from the School.
- You will need to arrange for your own breakfast and evening meals.
Why is the composition of my gut microbiome so important?
Over the last few years, there has been a lot of interest in the influence of the gut microbiome on overall health. The microbes that live in our digestive system (about 100 trillion of them) play a hugely important role. These bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoans form an ecosystem which we are now finding helps in protecting us from diseases, and can boost our mental wellbeing. Research in this field is relatively young and there is much still to discover, but it is becoming obvious that we have a symbiotic relationship with these microbes, and they are central to our health.
We know that a healthy, balanced gut microbiome helps us to process food – it is essentially at the heart of a healthy digestive process. The microbes also protect us from infection through interactions with our immune system, and help manufacture vitamins, including vitamin K and vitamin B12. Research shows that these microbes can send signals, via the vagus nerve, to our brain. Through this they may be influencing our mood, our appetite, and even our levels of anxiety. Recent studies have shown that the balance, or imbalance, of the gut microbiome can be linked to a range of conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and other autoimmune diseases.
From what we now understand, the composition of an individual’s microbiome seems to be determined by a combination of what we were seeded with at birth, what we eat and our lifestyle. Things like diet, exercise, the medicines we use and our environment can have a huge effect on our microbes. As a baker who has been researching the role of the microbiome in digestion, my interest has become focused on whether long, slow, fermented sourdough breads can have a positive effect on the gut microbiome. As yet there is no definitive evidence of this. It’s simply the conclusion I have reached having read many studies conducted in laboratories and on laboratory animals.
Can you recommend some places to visit and things to do near the school?
We have a whole page of suggestions for you -
Mobile phone usage at The Sourdough School
The school is a mobile phone-free space. We want you to forget your busy life and focus on sourdough while you are with us. You are free to make calls in the library or garden and take photos of your bakes during breaks, but we have a complete ban on phones in the classes.
Should anyone need to contact you in an emergency, they can use the school number +44 (0)7707 480336
Do I need to use WhatsApp?
We encourage all students to download WhatsApp before they arrive at the school. This allows us you to keep in touch with The Sourdough School and your classmates after the course has finished. It's a great way to share photos of your bakes, exchange ideas and ask questions.
We offer ongoing support through the WhatsApp group for up to 12 months after the course, so it is important to have access to the app to be able to participate fully.