Preparing for a spring trip to Rome, I was chatting to an Italian friend within a larger group of friends. Someone asked Rosella how to ask for gluten free bread in Italian. Rosella cast a doubtful eye in his direction and, when pressed as to the availability of gluten free in Italy, she thought for a moment and then said “I think that you can get gluten free flour in some pharmacies in the cities and big towns”. Low and behold though, during our visit, some of the shops in Rome’s tourism areas were advertising “gluten free” varieties of well-known Italian staples. Why is it, it occurred to me, that as the demand for gluten free bread and other similar products seems to be inexorably on the rise here, it is a rare product you need a prescription for in Italy?
This certainly isn’t a mystery to Sue of The Forest Bakehouse team. This small co-operative bakery, based in modest premises tucked away in the pretty Longhope village centre, produces outstandingly good “proper” bread. During a lovely morning interviewing Sue and Chris, another member of the team, Sue discussed the co-ops passion for producing a real quality bakery range. Turns out that many of the problems digesting wheat and flour some people seem to suffer from may just be a consequence of how it’s made!
Modern bread, especially the arch criminal sliced white, takes a fraction of the time a traditional and experienced baker takes to produce a loaf. The bread that makes up the volume of that on offer in our supermarkets is made in vast bread production lines where it goes from cheap raw ingredients to sliced and bagged in just a matter of hours. No doubt this is a profitable business based on volumes alone. But in part consumer demand for ever cheaper stuff is also to blame. Take a supermarket sliced white value loaf at the royal price of 40 pence (link below – worth looking at the ingredients list too to see how many you recognise). Just what is it that we think we are getting for our hard earned 40 pence when a traditionally made loaf costs around £2?
Modern large scale bread is made in super quick time with bulk bought ingredients, which need flavour and texture additives to make them palatable. And there is the problem – that speed of production and super-charged fermentation misses a very necessary opportunity. That opportunity is time to allow the process to change and soften the effects of the gluten. Time in fermentation breaks down those things we may have trouble digesting and gives our system a fighting chance. Luckily for us that time spent resting and proving also adds bags more flavour and character to the bread. There’s more of the science on the subject on their website, but the taste and quality is something that the crew at The Forest Bakehouse are really proud of.
The bakery is a community supported and part funded project, but don’t think that this is anything other than a successful business. It’s just one operated on a different model. Sue and Chris, we have already mentioned, but Ciaran and Peter complete the co-operative, although not there on the day we visited. The workload is shared between the members and they have now taken on an apprentice too! Sue, was candid when asked about working as a co-operative, “we have learnt a lot, in the beginning we thought that it meant we all had to agree on everything! As we developed, we split the tasks into responsibilities and we each get on with our fair share of running and working in the business. It really works”. The community aspect of the project also means a great deal to the team who see the business as giving something back to the community investors who helped them get going in the first place.
That’s the business stuff over with – let’s talk about the taste! I tried their sourdough at the “See, Taste, Buy” event in the spring and was already hooked. The prospect of it straight from the Longhope ovens was just too tempting, and so that was the first target for tasting! The Bakehouse product range is really rather good for a smallish bakery. Alongside their sourdoughs, there are rustic looking farmhouse breads, savoury breads, their Latchen (soft white yeasted bread approximately 250 light years from supermarket sliced white), baguettes and ciabattas.
The small café in one corner of the Bakehouse next to the entrance serves croissants and cookies, pizza slices and the most fantastic sausage rolls all made right there on the premises (also available from the Dean Forest Food Hub pick up points). If you don’t believe us, call in for a cup of tea or coffee and watch it coming out of the oven!
My money is on proper bread every time.
Whats in a 40p sliced white http://www.tesco.com/groceries/product/details/?id=258742688
The Forest Bakehouse www.forestbakehouse.co.uk Longhope village 01452 830435