Interview with Jim and Larissa Haas
Pioneers of artisan hand-crafted breads
GO2KIEV: Please explain to our readers the importance of whole grain flour and what are the benefits/advantages of hand-crafted bread?
Jim Haas: More and more people are trying to avoid synthetic chemicals and pesticide residues found in foods as a way to improve their overall health and well-being. Obviously making the effort to choose healthy and natural foods is a fantastic way to help do this. Our mission is to provide the highest quality, fresh organic stone ground flour and create breads which are rich in texture, nutrients and taste. I grew up with family discussions revolving around nutrition, environmental concerns and health. My late step-father, Ross Hume Hall, PhD, was a biochemist that devoted much of his life to nutrition- and health-related issues and how they are affected by an industrialized environment and modern intensive agriculture. One of his many legacies was to cast nutritional worth in terms of real food, and this is much of the inspiration of our efforts here in Ukraine. Ukraine has a rich history of grain-based foods and bread in particular. However, there is a real deficit of good hand-crafted breads available to people who live in urban centers like Kyiv, and we are trying to offer an alternative to mass-produced breads baked in a very industrial environment.
Larissa Hass: AgroEast Organics and AgroEast Baking & Milling is a family owned and operated company. We want to offer Ukrainians something new and at the same time something ancient. Our bread is made by hand and all technology stops right after your switch off the dough-mixer. The rest of the day is when your hands, heart and soul are engaged. We ferment our breads in a natural environment using an unbleached linen cloth. We purposely do not use and chemical ingredients or so-called dough “improvers” or taste enhancers; we do not subject the bread to any shock freezing so as to ship it long distances and store indefinitely. We want to show people that it can be done without Hi-Tech and offer the taste of REAL bread. The commonly held opinion that healthy food can’t be delicious is simply not true. We are currently using both conventional and organic flours, but our long-term objective is to bake exclusively with organic flours when we have a reliable supply.
GO2KIEV: “Organic”? Can you explain what you mean by that?
Larissa Haas: To be certified as “organic” a crop must be grown in a rich soil that has been farmed without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. The use of any genetically engineered seeds is also strictly forbidden. Despite what the proponents of intensive agriculture claim, study after study has shown that organic farms can produce optimum quantities of highly nutritional foods without inflicting damage on the surrounding ecosystems and wildlife. The “organic” certification assures that the crops or food have been produced according to a strict set of standards and that the farm or food processor has passed annual inspections from a competent certification body. Many Ukrainians have a mind set that all products at the local market are home grown and free from chemicals. Unfortunately those times when this was 100% true are gone. Some people purposely use “magic liquids” to get harvest without spending hours on weeding and gathering bugs. It is simply a convenience, and rarely are smaller growers truly aware of the possible negative consequences. Furthermore, many products are now imported from abroad and introduced into the market via distributors who buy massive quantities of vegetables from industrial growers. The price tag on that “magic stuff” should say “The price is your health”. It obviously does not apply to every seller, but you have to be very careful and selective. Anyway, this is why we feel strongly about what we do and why we are determined to go fully organic as soon as possible.
GO2KIEV: Why do you use a stone mill to grind flour?
Jim Haas: The milling process of a stone-mill is totally different from the roller mill. Whole grain flour is made only in a stone mill. Apart from milling whole grain (bran & germ inclusive) natural stones do not allow temperature to exceed permitting degrees which is vital for the preservation of nutrients, texture and flavor of the flour. Stone ground flour retains all the healthy wheat germ, natural oils, vitamins, enzymes, thus making it nutritiously good and wholesome. The stone ground flour motto of, “nothing added nothing removed” means exactly that.
GO2KIEV: Tell us about the variety of breads that you bake and sell.
Jim Haas: Certainly, for I use my own recipes and personally hand-craft the bread loaves. “Levain” is an oval-shaped wheat flour bread, but with a small percentage of rye as well. This bread is commonly known in France as “pain au levain” and has a pleasant sourdough taste and unique flavor. The “Westphalia with caraway” is considered an Eastern European classic that is made with rye and wheat flours, thirty percent of which is whole grain. This bread has a distinctive pungent flavor due to the natural rye sourdough leaven fermentation process. We also make “Schwabia”, something that goes nice with meals and sandwiches. This is a yeast leavened bread made with wheat and rye flours, and I also throw in some natural herbs and spices into the dough mix. I bake all our breads in a wood-fired oven which will give you some of the best tasting bread you’ve ever experienced. Many of our customers look forward to the crispy and hearty crust – especially the Levain crust - that only the intense dry heat of a real wood-fired can create. Many people have come to think that bread, to be considered fresh, must be soft. This is simply not the case. Breads from our wood-fired oven (or “Holzbackofen” as it’s called by its German manufacturer) might feel firm when touched, but this is the protection of a soft and delicate crumb which will last for a long time.
Larissa Haas: I’ve received quite a few emails and even phone calls from individuals, health clubs and restaurants thanking us for our bread. Our customers say that tasting, smelling and eating the bread is reminiscent of their childhood and their Grandmother’s home baked bread. This makes us feel very good about what we’re doing because these are exactly the kind of feelings and sentiments that we want people to experience. We want to make good honest bread that is - to use the words we often hear from our customers - “the way they used to make it”. That’s why Jim and I are in this business.
GO2KIEV: Listed below is how one can buy AgroEast Organic Breads:
“Chumatsky Shlakh” store, 2a M. Kotsubinsky St
“Chumatsky Shlakh” store, 2/34 Kikvidze St. (next to Pechersky bridge)
“Krepostnoy” store, Krepostnoy Lane (next to Marinsky Park )
Direct deliveries are made to requested locations on Monday and Thursdays which are on the scheduled baking days and according to the planned assortment (minimum order value is 200 UAH).
Special Orders: Special orders are gladly accepted for special occasions on any date and bread assortment.
For orders, please call: (044) 331 7091; (067) 209 1341; (067) 236-5202