Artisan foods, slow, unhurried, handmade breads and beers and baking, are becoming a fact of life.
In the Midlands, all things artisanal are hugely popular, among them the ambrosial sour-dough breads coming from Hilton’s Wild Bread Co.
“Wild Bread Co is a journey which was begun a decade ago by slow-food-loving friends,” says Paul Hildyard. “Exploring original bread recipes, we aimed to restore what has been lost through modern techniques that speed up the process just to save time.”
And so, following renowned baker Raymond Calvel’s methods explained in his book, The Taste of Bread, Wild Bread Co bakes with “intuitive passion learned from his deep knowledge to suit our local flour and climatic conditions”.
Hildyard, a horticulturist by trade (he and his partner Glenn Read also own Our Secret Garden, a landscaping business that looks after the 32ha-Amberfield Complex in Howick), is deeply committed to his baking processes, and each one of the 250 loaves he turns out per week has been handmade with care and love.
“It is not a speedy process,” he explained. “It takes three days to make our bread, and we use only GMO-free, slow stone-ground flour from Champagne Valley Stonemill. Only four ingredients are used - flour, water, salt and yeast.”
Flavours offered, apart from the plain but delicious French country loaf, include three-seed (linseed, sesame and sunflower); tomato and garlic; cheese and onion (hugely popular); kalamata olive; roasted hazelnut - and others on request. They also make a ciabatta loaf, rolls and pita bread.
The three-day process sees slow, natural unhurried fermentation in cool temperatures to guarantee a lowered gluten index. “This also naturally creates a lower pH and makes the grains easily digestible.” The bread has a natural wheaty flavour, with organic nutty overtones.
Hildyard said the flavour improved after baking and peaked on the third day. Sliced and sealed, he added, this bread could be frozen indefinitely and then taken out slice by slice to be toasted.
“Calvel said that if you tried surviving on flour and water, you would eventually die, but add yeast to the two ingredients and allow it to ferment, and you could live indefinitely.
“Our loaves are exceptionally healthy, and unlike commercial breads, will keep you feeling contentedly full for hours, because of the low GI.
“There are no added enhancers or deadly bleaches. And it’s perfect for gluten intolerances or for people suffering from reflux problems and so on.”
What takes him three days, said Hildyard, “commercial bakers do in an hour. Slow fermentation is part of man’s basic nutrition. Think tea, cheese, wine, yoghurt - all of them are fermented. And sour dough, in fact, was first found in Switzerland in 3700BC.
“We are simply reverting to traditional methods, traditional eating.”
Everything in his baking process “is hand built”, he said. “The only machines we use are the ovens.”
Wild bread Co’s loaves are so popular that apart from supplying many of the restaurants and eateries in the Midlands, Hildyard also bakes at least 150 to 200 a week for the weekly Karkloof Farmers’ Market.
His two large gas ovens work flat out on Fridays (each takes 10 loaves every half hour ), and in the pipeline is a third oven, as orders increasingly ramp up.