Last week, Bord Bia’s Food Alert newsletter drew attention to the fact that more and more people are demanding a ‘real bread’ experience. In other words, the population is no longer content to put up with mass produced loaves made by the Chorley Wood process (which uses cheap flours and improvers to churn out hundreds of loaves in superquick time), and instead they want a proper loaf of bread on the table. One that has been created with care and love and time. In essence, bread that smells and tastes like bread. In Ireland, the traditional soda bread, made with real buttermilk, has long been made of an early morning, in farmhouses up and down the land. It was this loaf that sustained the men of the house at breakfast, before they set about their daily tasks. The most dextrous Irish farmer’s wives can, and regularly do, knock up a couple of loaves on the kitchen table in the time it takes to boil a kettle for the tea. Soda bread is still a popular and traditional choice today, showcased in most bakeries and certainly on the breakfast tables of traditional b&b, guesthouse and hotel accommodations in Ireland. Introducing itself to international tourists year in, year out. Putting Ireland on the gourmet map.
But it seems the Irish palate has changed with times. These days, according to the Bord Bia report, Sourdough seems to be making a great surge in popularity.Probably influenced by better travel opportunities and the arrival of continental bakers to Ireland. Sourdough doesn’t use yeast, but rather is a fermented bread where the baker makes a ‘culture’ which makes the bread rise and gives the ‘sour’ taste. This culture is a natural yeast, and often temperamental according to the maker and it’s environment, a mix of flour and water, and secret ingredients personal to each baker. Our own Declan Ryan of Arbutus Bread, has his own secret recipe starter including organic grape ‘must’ (the bloom on grape skins), which he has kept for many years. It takes patience and a few days to make a starter culture for your sourdough, and then when it is made, it will need to be ‘fed’ on a regular basis in order to keep it alive. Yes. A sourdough culture is a living thing. Rather like a pet, you need to feed it if you want it to survive! This writer well remembers a culture from a few years ago which was over three years old, beautifully mature and well flavoured. It died when it was left alone too long during a working trip away. Throwing it away was a sad affair only akin to burying the family dog. So when you see a sourdough loaf in the bakers , remember that whoever made it had dedication to the cause, because making sourdough is a true labour of love. Once you have made your culture, you then need to make your dough. Which takes hours to prove (rise). Twice. Roughly twenty four hours after you have started the process of making a sourdough loaf, you will remove the finished result, golden and fragrant from the oven. It’s a process of making real bread which creates a compulsive need to discuss, probe, question and discuss some more, in those who make sourdough on a regular basis. Word of advice. Never, ever, unless you are an expert who has something very profound and knowledgeable to say, butt in when two sourdough makers are discussing their creations. You won’t be thanked. It’s marvellous that the Irish are now seeking sourdough out from artisan bakers in Ireland. Proving (pardon the pun) that real bread, made with real heart, is back with a vengeance! Check out more artisan bakers, including some Good Food Ireland bakers, on the Real Bread Ireland website. A volunteer organisation which has formed a network of proper bakers, making it easier to find real bread bakers for the type of bread you like best.