TV’s Victorian Baker develops taste for our bread

Article written by Food NI CEO Michele Shirlow for Farm Week 22/09/2016

michele--farmweekHow marvellous it was to hear John Foster, BBC TV’s Victorian Baker, extolling the quality and innovation of our bread during what is Year of Food and Drink’s Bread and Bakery month.

John was in Northern Ireland to run a workshop on innovation for Andrew Ingredients in Lisburn, a business which supplies materials to bakers and bakeries across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We were delighted to be involved with Andrew Ingredients in what proved to be an immensely stimulating and important event.

During a fascinating session on the importance of innovation in baking, the ‘bread and butter’ of the Victorian Baker show, John set bakers here a challenge- to develop a single form of wheaten bread, the most traditional of local bread. He had tasted wheaten for the first time. Indeed, he tasted several different wheaten breads. He suggested bakers here should try to agree a “true wheaten’.

But, to my mind, what makes our wheaten so special is the variety to be found and enjoyed throughout Northern Ireland. I accept, of course, that one wheaten recipe could be the way ahead in bread sales outside these shores, particularly to Great Britain, our most important market.

We have many superb bakeries, both large and small, in Northern Ireland. John knew quite a bit about potato bread, but his first experience with Nutty Krust almost reduced him to tears of joy, a true fermented bread, baked properly and a thing of beauty to a baker.

A number of Food NI bakeries already do good business in Britain with traditional Irish wheaten bread and have won awards for the quality and taste of their products. Several have come away with medals in competitions such as the Great Taste Awards, the Irish National Food Awards and the Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards.

John Foster, of course, is endeavouring to update baking traditions through innovation. His message was stark, innovate or die. We are extremely fortunate in Northern Ireland to have retained traditional bread and different baking techniques. Indeed, the industry really is prospering here.

Traditional breads are readily available alongside a broad range of baked good from many parts of the world. We’ve hugely talented bakers making European breads such as ciabatta, focaccia, rye, spelt, baguettes, French sticks and sourdough along with deliciously buttery croissants and pain du chocolate. Many of our best restaurants take great pride in baking their own bread.

Bread, of course, is one of the oldest prepared foods, with archaeological evidence suggesting that by 30,000 years ago Homo sapiens in Europe were preparing a kind of bread from ground wheat.
Louis Bromfield, the American conservationist once remarked that “bread is the king of the table and all else is merely the court that surrounds the king. The countries are the soup, the meat, the vegetables, the salad, but bread is king.”

That’s maybe taking it a bit far, but I know what he was getting at. We should certainly be proud of and really enjoy the quality and originality of our bread and, of course, the talented bakers to be found in major bakeries and the huge number of home bakers across Northern Ireland who turn out the best bread in these islands.