A wonderful gathering of conversations all about real bread & baking for the soul.
Conference chaired by Kath Dalmeny and Key-note speaker Andrew Whitley. Andrew reminded us that it was 6 years since the last such gathering in Oxford.
In the last 7 years the Real Bread Campaign has faced down the industrial plant bread lobby, forced more honesty in advertising and labelling, and is witnessing the general de-commodifying of plant bread. We have seen the establishment of the School of Artisan Food and enjoyed a never ending supply of bread puns, led by Chris Young.
There was a real buzz in the main lecture theatre as 200+ real bread enthusiasts in the room paid respect to Andrew, who espoused the benefits of real fermented sourdough, as he robustly exposed the industrial plant “bakeries”….setting up the closing comments by Chris to please stop calling the plant stuff “bread” at all and with more education and passion from the room we can soon again call Real-Bread bread.
The body of the day was conversational sessions, facilitated by conversational leaders, who read as a who’s who of real bread bakers, bakeries and educationalists. There was three areas of focus
(1) Social enterprise baking
(i) Bread in mind – baking for the benefit of people with mental health issues
(ii) Community supported bakery & Jail bake – running a baking social enterprise for ex-offenders and those at risk of brushes with the law and
(iii) Therapeutic and mindful baking & Baking social enterprise – can a bakery add a social “bottom line” alongside financial profit.
(2) Setting up your own real bakery enterprise
(i) Marketing your micro bakery – the marketing mix, importance of names and visual indent, plus cheap & free proportional tools
(ii) Serious Business – real practical advise on how to get from passionate home baker to micro bakery entrepreneur maestro
(iii) Scaling up your bakery.
(3) Techie stuff, from fundamental & professional sourdough to heritage grains:
(i) Sourdough 101 – What is sourdough and how to bake it
(ii) Sourdough pro – moving to baking many, achieving consistency in production
(iii) Ancient and Heritage grains – explained.
There was a scramble of places, with all conversations full, and I took the Techie route.
(i) Sourdough 101 was led by: Hilary Cacchio, Vanessa Kimbell & Andrew Whitely
Hilary spoke confidently about how to smell sour dough and find those sweet aromas as befits a chef turned sour dough educational expert – expect a banana/caramel nose if refreshing correctly with “heritage flour”.
Vanessa was larger than life character who runs a sour dough school & resident baker for Bakery Bits; she noted “This bad smell complaint” often come from students who use industrial flour.
Andrew ensured that novices in the room understood sourdough & the benefits of fermentation, and banned the use of the word feeding. His mantra was “only refresh as required”. He has successfully kept a healthy sourdough in a fridge for five years, never feeding it once.
He brought us through acetic, lactic, fustic acids and another I didn’t catch, so there is more learning to be done, which is a good summary of the session – It inspired the whole room to learn more.
There was a great Q & A session which showed the wealth of info present in the room, for example a wonderful explanation that strong acid taste can and should be inversely proportional to the quantity of leaven used – You would need to have been there.
(ii) Sourdough pro led by: Fergus Jackson & Ben Mackinnon
There was such a good rapport between leaders and the room, one would not have known that Fergus and Ben have commercial bakeries of their own, Brick House and E5 Bakehouse respectively in the London market.
Long fermentation & use of fridges were discussed in detail, dough temperature control a must and the need for consistency essential. The pro’s advised that with good dough temp. control one has as much as a four hour window for use of a ripe (my term) leaven when using slow fermentation.
Judgement in these commercial situations is still down to the smell and taste of the sourdough, rather than measuring pH. The participation during the session was great and continued into the corridors after.
Lunch was a communal sharing affair which worked really well, no one went hungry. I was glad I had fresh bread from my visit to Bread Bread the previous evening.
(iii) Ancient & Heritage Grains: Andrew Forbes & Andrew Whitely
Most of the wheat in the UK grows no more than 0.5m tall; grown for bulk (yield) rather than bread making quality. The commodity market fails the nutritional needs of the customer. Heritage wheat typically grows strong & tall – 1.5m.
Andrew explained that this height naturally shades the soil and prevents unwanted weeds. “Dwarf” HYV (high yield varieties) wheat needs chemical fertilizer to prevent it from falling over and the soil needs weed killer.
The information kept coming but I must end this blog report here before it becomes a novel. Their final session of Q&A with expert panel, would fill another page, and in summary both Andrew & Kath promised to not leave it six years until next meeting, and Chris urged all members to organise their own gatherings and he would publicise them.