“Cooking is an art, baking is a science,” baker Sheldon Clohossey told me at the Summerside Farmers Market recently. He managed to squeeze in the odd word between customers as I stood and watched and listened as the line snaked it’s way along the outdoor walkway. “You could win a competition with this bread,” one woman yelled to Sheldon over the crowd. A dad with his young son exclaimed, “The only reason we come here is for the pita chips!” Sheldon’s Vinegar Hill Bakery products have captured the hearts (and tummies) of folks from Summerside to Alberton to Tignish.
When asked about his unusual business name, Sheldon gave me a quick history lesson. In 1798, the Irish Rebellion was attacked by 13,000 British soldiers at Vinegar Hill in County Wexford, Ireland. The Irish lost but the details of the fierce battle caught Sheldon’s imagination. He decided to name a six acre field on his family farm in Nail Pond, West Prince, Vinegar Hill in honour of those brave Irish soldiers.
While studying biochemistry at university, Sheldon’s friends would always end up baking for the party or whatever the occasion. “I just kind of kept doing it,” says Sheldon, who always enjoyed baking. “I realized after two years, biochemistry wasn’t for me,” Sheldon continued, ”after taking a year off working around Halifax, I came back to the Island and decided to take either culinary or carpentry at Holland College. Both careers involved working with your hands, I love that. I was accepted into both programs, but chose the Culinary Institute.”
After school he moved back to Halifax and then to Ontario where he honed his skills. “If you add a little more of one ingredient, then you have to adjust all the other ingredients to make it work. I love to experiment.”
Sheldon was the bakery creator and manager at the Tignish Co-op before deciding to go out on his own. He got a table at the Summerside Farmers Market and started out slowly. Before long, the demand for his products went well beyond roasted nuts, kettle popcorn and pretzels.
Now with a travelling trailer in Alberton at the former Esso station, Vinegar Hill Bakery is selling out fast with people lining up before opening. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the love and support of my wonderful wife Laura. She has encouraged me every step of the way. She’s a huge help.”
Sheldon’s specialty is Italian focaccia. It’s just flour, water, salt and yeast, smothered in olive oil, covered in mouth-watering toppings. Just.
Other handcrafted selections include braided bread, molasses bread, German pretzels, biscotti, pita chips, cinnamon raisin bread, fruit loaves, biscuits and rolls.
Check out Vinegar Hill Bakery at the Summerside Farmers Market on Saturdays or at the Alberton Esso on Thursdays, both from 9–12 pm.