Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt
Juvenal

The Interest in Sourdough is on the Rise

September is a busy time of year for many. The kids are back to school, harvest season is upon us and there are several food and drink campaigns helping us to change our processed ways. One such campaign is Sourdough September, which runs for the 30 days of September, and highlights genuine bread-making. The Real Bread Campaign attempts to encourage people to consume ‘real bread’. This month why not choose to support your local artisan baker or local flour mill and make your own sourdough. Sourdough is one of those foods that show that ancient techniques are the way forward and the key to sustainability.

All types of bread can be considered as ‘real bread’.  But in order for them be so, The Real Bread Campaign define real bread as bread “that is made without the use of processing aids or any other artificial additives”[1]. Simply put bread needs only 2 ingredients; flour and water. However, the addition of salt and yeast, like a sourdough starter, brings a different dimension to bread.

The Start of Sourdough

Before the discovery of yeast, in order to get bread to rise you needed to ‘pre-ferment’ it. The evidence of baking bread dates thousands of years, even before the Egyptians! However, it was through the Egyptians that baking techniques, like the sourdough starter going back to 1500BC, have spread throughout Europe. As one epoch followed another, sourdough’s presence has been consistent as a bread of all ages.

Wheat, as we know it, began simply as cross-breeding between wild grass species and started as Einkorn[5]. The problem with wheat, and the issues many people have with it these days in regards to digestion, sensitivities, allergies, go back to the 19th century and the rise of the Industrial Revolution in the West. Wheat was a cheap crop to grow and it was necessary to create a high yielding product to maintain and sustain a rapidly growing population.

Sourdough, although now generally used to label a type of bread, is the name of a mixture of a dough consisting of water and cereal flour containing a culture of naturally occurring yeasts and lactic acid bacteria[2]; yeast and bacteria are omnipresent. Yeast and bacteria are especially prevalent on cereal grains. When the grains are ground into flour and water is added, the dough is left to ferment in a place with an unvarying temperature, the yeast cells will eventually give off carbon dioxide[2] which makes the bread rise. These enzymes also affect the flavour giving the bread that ‘sour’ taste, chewy texture and firm crust.

These first actions create the ‘sourdough starter’ which is essentially pre-fermentation. A pre-ferment is a portion of the dough made several hours, or the previous day, before the final dough is baked[3]. For consistency, fresh flour can be added to a portion of the sourdough starter and the process can begin again for subsequent loaves.

An Honest Loaf

Sourdough is hip at the moment and is a naturally fermented product making it good for gut health. It is a food associated with a low FODMAP (Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and Monosaccharides, and Polyols) diet, essential for those who suffer from symptoms associated with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Bacteria are generally seen as the enemy.

However, bacteria are all around us; good and bad. Bacteria are vital for building immunity in terms of disease and we are becoming accustomed to feeding the bacteria inside our bodies with fermented products such as sourdough bread. It is essential to feed this internal ecosystem with foods that help rather than hinder bodily functions[5]. A healthy gut resonates throughout the body. If it isn’t happy, inflammation occurs which is the beginning of dis-ease within the body.

Another benefit of sourdough bread is its longevity. A sourdough loaf lasts a long time and doesn’t go stale as quickly as other types of bread. Using up stale sourdough is easy. Use it to make breadcrumbs or humble Italian dishes such as Panzanella. Alice from Alice’s Artisan Bakery uses up her sourdough by making garlic bread!

The Real Bread Campaign is hoping to introduce an Honest Crust Act for more transparent labelling in the bread industry. It is important, however, to note that bread which has not gone through this lengthy fermentation are being advertised as sourdough loaves. It is important to create awareness surrounding this and to identify trustworthy bread-makers. Sourfaux is giving sourdough a bad name.

Real Grains:

Gilchester’s Organics

Gilchester’s Organics supply heritage organic flours around the UK to many bakeries, restaurants and amateur bakers. Heritage grains add a different flavour and texture to the bread. The heritage grains are more sturdy types and have naturally developed to protect themselves against pests and changes in climate, so more often than not you can find organic varieties of heritage grains.

It is essential when either buying or making a sourdough, you are using a top-quality flour such as those made by Gilchester’s Organics.

The Gilchester flour range includes:

  • Rye Grain
  • Spelt Grain
  • 100% Wholewheat Strong Flour

Find out more about Gilchester’s Organics on our previous article about organic producers up North.

The Wilkinsons of Gilchester's Organics checking the heritage wheat fields on their farm.
The Wilkinsons of Gilchester’s Organics checking the heritage wheat fields on their farm.

Heatherslaw Flour Mill

Heatherslaw Mill is a supporter of the Real Bread Campaign. The family-run business has been involved with bread and milling for over 40 years! The mill, which has a history spanning over 700 years, is nestled between the villages of Ford and Etal. Heatherslaw Mill supplies flour to local bakers such as James Ford & Sons who have shops in Norham and Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Heatherslaw Mill’s flour ranges from wholemeal wheat, spelt and rye to unbleached white wheat flour. They also offer oat products; medium ground and pinhead oatmeal as well as rolled oat flakes which are all milled across the border in Kelso.

On the 23rd September, Heatherslaw Mill will be holding a ‘Flour’ Festival to showcase the mill. The festival offers an insight into the milling process. The machinery there is powered by a 16ft water wheel and the flour is still made using millstones to make the high-quality, stoneground flour from locally grown wheat. Admission is free, as is a children’s pizza making session. There is a small charge for an adult breadmaking workshop on the day. Booking is recommended.

While you’re there why not hop aboard the Heatherslaw Light Railway. The working mill and museum at Heatherslaw are open to the public between March and October.

Sourdough Classes:

Allendale Bakery

Recently retiring from commercial baking, Allendale Bakery now runs bread-making classes using their wood-fired oven onsite. The classes are available throughout the Spring and Summer months of the year. Although they offer many bread-making courses, the sourdough making course has been the most popular over the past few years. The breadmaking classes have been running for over 10 years. The Sourdough Techniques class provides an insightful introduction to the art of sourdough making; including making a sourdough starter which is perhaps the part that confuses many folks. The class runs the full-day and with the opportunity to learn about making several sourdough varieties including white sourdough, sourdough bagels and Austrian spelt sourdough.

Allendale Bakery source local produce where possible for the classes including flour from Gilchesters Organics.

Caroline and Larry are currently off on sabbatical learning about Spanish and Portuguese baking techniques before re-starting the courses in spring next year.

The Courses Allendale Bakery Offer:

  • Sourdough Techniques
  • Festive Bread
  • Italian Bread
  • French Bread
  • Scandinavian Bread
  • Middle Eastern Breads
  • Breadmaking for Beginners

Savour the Flavour

Savour the Flavour started life in 2012 with a passion for quality, wholesome food as standard and important for well being. The business first began by selling read bread at local fairs. As popularity grew, so did the demand and now Savour the Flavour sell their bread at local shops and markets too.

Gill Evans, who runs Savour the Flavour, is a qualified acupuncturist and is therefore literate in the ways we should be feeding our bodies for optimal health. Good food and good health are interlinked and eating local, seasonal produce is one easy way to achieve this. Like acupuncture, eating fermented food is meant to displace inflammation in the body and is also revered as an ancient healing technique. Eating sourdough bread is an easy option for those who wish to start consuming fermented foods.

Savour the Flavour‘s main focus is teaching breadmaking courses throughout the year. The classes are usually monthly and are held at Bedrule Village Hall; Bedrule is a hamlet between Jedburgh and Hawick. The classes are small which allows Gill to give people lots of individual attention to prospective bakers which makes it easier to learn about the textures and techniques involved.

As well as providing breadmaking courses, Savour the flavour is a small-scale micro-bakery, producing limited quantities of organic sourdough and yeasted bread, along with some preserves and special orders. You can find Savour the Flavour‘s bread at the Selkirk Farmers Market, hosted by Selkirk Distillers and at Denholm Post Office one weekend a month.

To celebrate Sourdough September there is a sourdough course on Sunday 23rd September where you will learn about and make a sourdough starter, along with all-rye and rye-wheat blended loaves and pizza.

Other courses include:

  • Breadmaking for Christmas:
    Sunday 18th November
  • Healthy breadmaking:
    Sunday 27th January
  • Sourdough breadmaking:
    Sunday 24th February
  • Easter Breadmaking:
    Sunday 17th March

Sourdough Bakers:

Bread & Roses

Bread & Roses, an artisan bakery based in Alnwick, specialise in authentic bread-making and have over 25 years experience in the business. As well as supplying many local shops and restaurants in Eyemouth, Wooler and Berwick-upon-Tweed, you’ll find Bread & Roses at local farmers markets such as Hexham and local food festivals. Bread & Roses recently were awarded 2nd prize at the Berwick Food and Beer Festival this year for their stall. The artisan loaves are made using local ingredients where possible, this includes organic flour from Gilchester’s Organics, in particular, the brown sourdough loaves and rye bread.

Bread & Roses is passionate about baking authentic bread. The name of the bakery comes from a famous political slogan where the lower classes were campaigning for more enjoyment of life, not merely its necessities. It is part of our human nature to desire the good taste of food, rather than eating something purely for sustenance. The bakery has taken this ideology and created an array of real bread made with sourdough techniques. These include:

  • Seeded Sourdough
  • 40% Rye with Caraway

As well as making and selling authentic, artisan loaves, Bread & Roses offer baking courses. Enquire for further information.

Bread & Roses produced real bread
Bread & Roses bake a variety of ‘real bread’ loaves.

Alice’s Artisan Bakery

Alice’s Artisan Bakery currently makes 5 different sourdoughs with 2 different cultures. Alice uses 2 different cultures because every sourdough culture around the world is different as it uses the natural yeast from the air. The flavour it has depends on what flour you use to feed it, how long it has been established and what environment you live in. Sourdough cultures, ‘mothers’ as they are sometimes referred, are living things like pets that you have to feed with flour and water and keep at the right temperature to keep it alive.

When making sourdoughs they typically take a bit longer to prove, without using conventional yeast but deliver a completely different flavour and crumb. The doughs have a distinctly sour flavour and have a more open and irregular structure too, often leading to a softer bread with a crunchy crust. It offers health benefits too as people who suffer from gluten sensitivity can normally tolerate sourdough better. This is because its fermented over a longer period of time which helps break down the gluten so it’s easier for the body to digest. This coupled up with other organic products and no preservatives, additives or flavour enhancers means Real Bread is far healthier than your supermarket loaf!

Alice uses Gilchester’s flour and endeavours to keep as many of the added extras in her bread, such as dried seeds, herbs and salt, organic as well as using local free-range eggs in her baking. Alice’s Artisan Bakery has also just brought out a new loaf that uses nutty Gilchester’s Organics rye flour and a Hadrian Border Brewery ruby ale called Secret Kingdom, named after North Northumberland.

A selection of Alice's artisan sourdough loaves
A selection of Alice’s artisan sourdough loaves

Artisan Baking Community

The Artisan Baking Community started as an idea by Earth Doctors in 2013. Local residents were asked to support a project which involved baking and consuming bread. Currently, The Artisan Baking Community is run by 15 volunteers who sell and bake bread across the North East. The Artisan Baking Community offers 4 types of sourdough loaves which are;

  • Geordie Sourdough
  • Rosemary Sourdough
  • Onion Sourdough
  • Tomato Sourdough

The Artisan Baking Community runs because of volunteers! Why not get involved in community baking this Sourdough September?

Not All Loaves Are Created Equal

Support the Real Bread Campaign for real bread. There are many folks in Northumberland and Scottish Borders who support this movement or contribute to it. Bread is an integral part of our diets that it should provide more nutrition than just part of our daily carbohydrate quota. Find your local baker, local breadmaking classes or miller. Buy bread, bake bread, eat bread. There’s a lot more to bread than you think.

Tell us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram what you like to enjoy on your sourdough loaves. Do you make your own or buy from a local baker? This Sourdough September, why not try a different bread.