This week is Real Bread Week, the annual, international celebration of bread made without the use of processing aids or any other additives, and the people behind its rise. Created and run by the Real Bread Campaign, Real Bread Week encourages people to buy local, from independent bakeries. So what better time to introduce artisan baker, Matt Saunders. Here, he tells us about being inspired by the bread-baking traditions of Beirut and how it led him to baking in FarmED’s wood-fired oven.
For the last six years I have directed most of my energy into baking nutritious bread for whichever community surrounds me. In 2015 that meant starting a ramshackle micro-bakery in a tiny space in Beirut. My relationship with baking began much earlier, when I discovered sourdough bread at Uni, but it was in Beirut that bread really started to take over my life. I delved into the myriad bread-making traditions and techniques, strived to maximise taste and nutrition through proper dough fermentation and forged links with organic grain growers across Lebanon, all as I attempted to make the bakery business work on a financial level.
Ultimately it was the grain itself that cast the most powerful spell. I worked with Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi, Ethiopian and French heritage varieties of wheat, rye and barley and fell in love with the depth and complexity of taste that these varieties brought to my bread. When I found out more about how these varieties fit into regenerative farming practices, I became even more convinced of the direction I wanted to take my baking. Heritage grain varieties can be considered those that were grown before the Green Revolution of the early 1900s, when grain began to be selected for its suitability for high-input industrial agriculture. They tend to create deeper root systems that ‘scavenge' for nutrients in the soil. They are more resistant to drought and thrive best when grown in ‘populations’, blends of many varieties that together have intrinsic resistance to disease and adapt to ever-changing growing conditions. This is of value to farmers, and inspiring and exciting for bakers.
These grains may be more challenging (i.e. less predictable) for bakers to work with, but these days many are, like me, choosing to embrace the challenge in order to benefit from the nutritional value and exciting flavour of the grain and to support food heritage, seed sovereignty and regenerative farming. When the grains can be sourced from farmers who work the land in the local area, the good vibes reach a whole other level! I am grateful for the opportunity to bake at FarmED, in the wood-fired oven, mere steps from where a ‘Honeydale Population’ is being developed. This wheat population was seeded from grain given to Ian by Rupert Dunn of the pioneering Torth y Tir peasant bakery in Pembrokeshire and by John Letts, the renowned heritage grain breeder from Oxfordshire.
I bake two styles of bread: the country loaf, which is a free-form hearth loaf made from high extraction stoneground white flour (about a T85 in the French labelling system); and the wholewheat tin loaf, a big, full-flavoured, square-slicing, last-the-whole-week bread made from brown flour (T125) plus a big dose of extra bran. We are fortunate to have some stone-milling experts half a mile away at FWP Matthews, so total food miles from field to oven are approximately 1.
One main aim of the project is to model an on-farm bakery operation that could be replicated on farms across the country, so I aim to keep things simple, avoid the need for major equipment and ensure a proper work-life balance. Bread is sold mainly on a subscription basis (one year, six months or three months) and delivered on a Friday to collection points in the local area. This is a bakery built on local farming and local community support. Baking workshops will hopefully happen soon and I look forward to meeting as many customers as possible in person, for conversations and fruitful exchanges of ideas inspired by the bread.
At Honeydale I naturally ferment flour that's been slowly stone-milled from heritage wheat grain grown as locally as possible in a way that builds soil health. Tastes good and nourishes body and soul!
If you want to get your hands on some of my Real Bread, you can subscribe to Honeydale Bread or buy one off loaves at https://honeydalebreadshare.bigcartel.com