Interview With Mike Vaona from Rosehill Sourdough in Eugene Oregon United States

Interview With Mike Vaona from Rosehill Sourdough in Eugene Oregon

In this homesteading blog post article, we get to chat with our friend Mike Vaona from Rosehill Sourdough in Eugene Oregon.

Can you tell us a little bit about the history and background of Rosehill Sourdough? How did the business get started and what inspired you to start it?

Rosehill Sourdough started on Rosehill Drive in Riverside California. I started my sourdough (Lucille) there. A lot of things happened at once. I had been making pizza for years, but couldn’t get the flavor I was looking for while using yeast. A friend of mine got diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and her doctor said she couldn’t eat bread, including my pizza. I had been researching sourdough and seeing that sourdough bread is processed in the body differently than yeasted bread. I asked if she would try sourdough if I made it and she said yes. Along the same time “Cooked” came out on Netflix and the “Air” episode confirmed some things I had heard about sourdough. So I dove deep into sourdough research. I started making sourdough bread to improve my pizza. I started the Instagram page to document my journey and help others start baking with sourdough as well. I started to document all my recipes in a note on my phone. That turned into a google doc that started getting shared around the world. My wife then turned that google doc into an ebook. The plan was to give the ebook away for free but a good friend of mine said if I ever wanted anyone to take it seriously, I had to sell it. So I started to sell the ebook and it snowballed from there!

What products do you sell and offer at Rosehill Sourdough? Can you give us an overview of your product lineup end to end?

Our focus is to provide the resources, tools, and techniques to help people feed themselves, their families, and their communities. So anything that falls into those categories is what we try to sell on the site. Currently that’s two ebooks (Baking with Rosehill Sourdough and Pizza with Rosehill Sourdough), The BreadMat (A reusable parchment paper replacement for bread baking), and the rhsd wood pulp proofing basket. The product roadmap is years long and includes everything to help home bakers improve their baking skills. 

Can you tell us more about your Wood Pulp Proofing Baskets? How are they different from other types of proofing baskets, and what benefits do they offer?

These baskets are handmade from wood pulp in Germany. They are super well made, very heavy and sturdy. They don’t need an insert so they are super easy to clean, you just let them dry out between uses and they will last forever. They absorb moisture from the outside layer of the dough, producing bread with better color and texture. They are just better than anything else I’ve ever used. Before these baskets, I had a well-documented hatred of proofing baskets. I started using the wood pulp ones when I was in the UK and fell in love. I knew I had to bring them back to the US so I started importing them. I also take the time to process them after they get to the US. I sand down the edges so they are a bit cleaner, and I brand them with an actual hot brass brand, and then I laser engrave the bottom with some iconography and “rosehill sourdough” just to make them look that much more professional. They are honestly the best baskets you can buy.

How did you come up with the idea for The BreadMat Silicone Baking Mat? Can you tell us more about its features and how it helps improve the baking process?

I was watching Master Class one night with my wife. We were watching Sara Blakely’s class on entrepreneurship. At one point my wife pauses the video and asks me what I would make. I said “a reusable silicone version of parchment paper for home bakers” and she said, “well let’s start tomorrow”. I have a background in product development and love the beginning so the next part was really fun. We ordered a bunch of materials and started prototyping different shapes. I started interviewing potential customers about the pain-points of using parchment paper and what baking vessels they use and what loaf sizes they make. I designed The BreadMat around these home bakers and the things they wanted. In the beginning it was all about reducing waste. The catchphrase was “Stop Wasting Paper”.I started with a solid silicone sheet and it worked fine and reduced waste but it wasn’t until I used a perforated material that I realized it was actually better than parchment paper. So we moved to “Bake Better Bread”. It actually works better than anything else. The secret is in the perforation pattern and material. It evens out the heat on the bottom of the loaf so you get better bases, better oven spring, and basically eliminate hot spots and burns on the bottom. It’s also safer to use since it’s easier to transfer the bread in and out of the hot vessel. It’s just better!

What sets Rosehill Sourdough apart from other bread-making supply companies? What makes your products unique?

First, I’m not a professional baker; I’m an engineer and a home baker. The products for the home baker and the professional baker are different and I’m focused on making the best products for the home baker. Also I’m not here to make money. I’m a terrible businessman. As an example the margins are absolutely terrible on the proofing baskets. But I don’t really care. I want people to have them and use them and bake better bread for their families. So I don’t really mind that they aren’t making much money. Knowing folks are baking is so much more valuable to me than money in an account. I want to make enough to keep this going so more people can learn and bake. That’s our focus.

Can you tell us about any exciting new products or developments that Rosehill Sourdough has in the works?

I’m particularly excited about 3 products. 2 should be out in the next few months, the other will take some time. One is simple. Silicone spatulas. There are so many options and they are mostly terrible. So I found a factory that makes super high-quality spatulas and I’m excited to be able to sell those. One comes from the research I was doing on the BreadMat. So many people were asking for longer handles. I learned that this was more of an issue with people having terrible oven gloves. I’m going to make a couple new sizes of The BreadMat and one will have longer handles, but I’m more excited about the gloves I’m working on. They will be the best oven gloves you can buy, full stop. The last one is my design for a baking vessel. That will take some time!

How does Rosehill Sourdough approach sustainability and environmental responsibility in its business practices?

The BreadMat started as a way to reduce the amount of paper that was being wasted by baking bread on parchment. The wood pulp-proofing baskets are made much more sustainably than cane baskets so those have an environmental advantage as well. We have yet to release our books as printed versions as a way to reduce paper usage and shipping impact. In addition, we really encourage our bakers to not waste flour and make sure they use all their discard. We also encourage bakers to use local organic flours. Last we have a focus on environmental philanthropy and we plant a tree for every BreadMat order. Add that to trying very hard to ensure all our shipping materials are recyclable or compostable. Environmental responsibility is always top of mind for us!

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out with sourdough bread-making, or who is interested in improving their skills?

For new folks, don’t read too much in the beginning. It can be an overwhelming amount of information, and bakers can often contradict each other making it that much more difficult to know where to start. Find one person that you resonate with and try their methods. And if that’s not me, I’m not offended! I’d rather you not follow me and bake bread than follow too many people and never get started. I have some great free resources on my website, check those out and see if I’m the person that can help you get going!

If you’re looking to improve, the best thing you can do is identify what you are looking to improve. Is it flavor? Texture? Digestibility? Repeatability? Once you have that down you can start writing out experiments to help. Documentation is the number one thing to help you improve. Take really good notes on what you did so you know how to repeat it or you know how to make sure you don’t make the same mistake again. And use a scale to weigh out your ingredients. It’s much more difficult to improve measuring when you’re measuring flour in cups.

Finally, what are your future plans and goals for Rosehill Sourdough? Where do you see the company going in the next few years?

We have a pretty clear vision on what products we plan to release over the next few years and meanwhile we will focus on making Rosehill the number-one place people turn to for sourdough. If they want to start, improve, open a business, we want to be a resource for them. So we’ll offer courses on sourdough, in-person workshops, the right tools, free videos to help with technique, whatever you can think of. If it’s sourdough, we will be the destination!

Connect with Mike from Rosehill Sourdough on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and visit their website.

Wild Bluebell Homestead is a charming hobby farm located in Abbotsford that offers a range of hand-made artisanal products, curated vintage furniture, sourdough bread, and other homemade items. The homestead is dedicated to creating unique and high-quality products that are beautiful, functional, and long-lasting, plus each item is carefully crafted with attention to detail. Customers can expect a warm and welcoming experience and a range of products that are perfect for adding a touch of rustic charm to any home.

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