Perfecting the mix - the story behind our crunchy, chunky granola

We’re often asked what inspired us to create our much-loved granola, so this month we sat down with our co-founder, Bronwynne Calvert, to chat about beginnings at our James Street Café, ‘secret’ ingredients and why she thinks it’s the best granola you’ll ever taste!

what inspired you to start baking granola?

Like I’ve always loved bread, I have always loved breakfast cereals, even the commercial ones, like Special K and Weet-bix, but in particular toasted muesli. I used to make my own natural muesli when I lived in shared houses at university.  

In 2003, I started making granola for our breakfast menu at our Irrewarra Bakery Cafe in James Street, Geelong. It was very popular. We served it with Greek yoghurt and fresh or poached seasonal fruit. So we started baking granola wholesale at the bakery for our bread retailers to sell, baking it in the bread ovens after the bread had left for the shops and the stone floor of the ovens were still warm. We used the bread mixer too, to toss the granola ingredients through the honey and oil. It took off as a product and soon we were selling it to cafes and supermarkets. 

how did you come up with the recipe?

I found a recipe for granola in a vegetarian cookbook my mother had given me.  I used the basic ratios of oats to fruit, nuts, seeds, spice and liquid (honey and oil) but played around with it to create a balance and flavour that I liked - strong, with spice, eucalyptus honey and dark fruits, so it stood up to the acidity of Greek yoghurt; the perfect match for granola!

We then developed the technique of making granola in-house at the bakery by trial and error.  It took a few years of baking and changes to work out how to get the big chunky clusters synonymous with an American style granola, which is more to do with technique than ingredients. To form clusters the recipes called for constant stirring and pulling it in and out of the oven, which is fine for a home cook but wasn’t commercially viable.

I also had to convert the home recipe sized quantities to commercial quantities — 100kg at a time! — and work out the best baking temperature, time and techniques.  

how and why did you choose particular ingredients?

When I started baking granola, we were already using many healthy ingredients in the bread  – walnuts, currants, sesame seeds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.  Seeds, nuts and dried fruits are classic granola ingredients.  I had read much about the goodness of these ingredients, including in a great book on healthy eating, The Cell Factor by Dr Ross Walker. 

Dr Walker recommended eating 10-15 nuts every day, such as walnuts, almonds and macadamia nuts, preferably in the morning. These nuts contain L-arginine, which improves blood flow to the heart and muscles, as well as being an amazing source of protein and good oils. He said that eating 10-15 nuts a day reduces heart disease by 50%!

The seeds in granola are full of healthy vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and good oils. Oats are a natural superfood, incredibly nutritious and full of soluble fibre. Dried black raisins and currants are also so good for you because they contain antioxidants including resveratrol.  They also don't need sulphur as a preservative.

where do you source your ingredients from?

We always try to source ingredients locally, but when we first started making granola many ingredients weren't available in Australia. For example we initially used Californian walnuts, Chilean raisins and Chinese sunflower seeds. 

The current range includes Australian almonds, walnuts, black raisins, sultanas currants and sunflower seeds. Our oats are locally grown and the honey we use is 100% Australian, sourced from a third generation, family-owned, honey company.

following the success of the original recipe, what inspired you to create further varieties?

I was always happy with just one granola variety; however, a very supportive supermarket buyer said to me one day, “Bronwynne, you need to have a range, at least 3 varieties!”.

The Fruit Free variety came about when consumers started focusing on reducing their sugar intake, around the same time Sarah Wilson wrote I Quit Sugar.  We had a number of customers asking us to make a granola without the dried fruit.

The More Nuts and Honey variety was created mainly out of my love of nuts and their amazing health benefits. I added hazelnuts and macadamia nuts in addition to the almonds and walnuts.

We were inspired to make the Almond and Coconut variety after a visit to the UK where vegan and vegetarian food stores were opening up all over London. This variety doesn't contain any honey so it's vegan, and is made with Maple syrup, brown rice syrup and brown sugar instead, with more coconut, and sliced and whole almonds than our other varieties. 

what does Irrewarra’s granola baking look like today?

We now bake over five tonnes of granola a week – that's a lot of ingredients coming into the bakery each day!  

We still bake to order like we did when we started; we ship granola out to stores that’s often been baked that very day and make everything ourselves from scratch at our bakery in Irrewarra. 

I still personally check all our ingredients each week and taste test each daily batch of granola – our head granola baker walks the samples from the bakery to my office every afternoon to discuss how it’s looking and tasting. It’s a great ritual and something I look forward to. 

are there any plans to expand the range further?

I am working on a toasted and natural muesli at the moment.  I'm reading how critical fibre is for health and the gut, so I'd like to make something super high fibre.  Not that the granola isn’t already high fibre, but the more the better!

As I get older, I'm more aware that granola is a high energy food, rich in honey and oil. Sometimes it's better to alternate with a natural muesli for breakfast that is lighter and with less honey (it doesn't taste as good though!).  

what are some of your favourite serving suggestions?

My favourite ways to eat our granola are sprinkled on top of good Greek-style yoghurt – real pot set of course – with fresh fruit such as sliced banana and passionfruit, or just in a bowl on its own with cold milk.

I love the More Nuts and Honey variety, it's a little bit sweeter and has the rich flavour of nuts and naturally dried sultanas. The Almond and Coconut granola is great as a snack straight from the pack!

Our granola is now sold Australia wide in fine food stores and supermarkets, and it gives John and I a real sense of achievement to see it on so many shelves!