Rising to the occasion

The words "British" and "bread" don't conjure the most positive image in Italian minds. But our bakers stole the show at this year's prestigious Salone de Gusto in Turin

Michael Bateman
Tuesday 05 December 2000 01:00

Given the youthfulness of our team, didn't we do well in Turin last month? Not the English football team who performed so creditably in the Stadio delle Alpi, but five young bakers who flew the flag at Turin's Salone de Gusto.

Given the youthfulness of our team, didn't we do well in Turin last month? Not the English football team who performed so creditably in the Stadio delle Alpi, but five young bakers who flew the flag at Turin's Salone de Gusto.

"What is this?" asked people viewing the appetising mounds of crusty golden bread. "Pane inglese," we said, and the Italians laughed, miming a square from a white sliced loaf. Then they tasted it. "Not bad. Very good. Molto bene!"

For small producers, the Salone de Gusto is the most prestigious gourmet food fair in the world. It is organised by Italy's Slow Food Movement - even the Pope has spoken out against fast food - which is dedicated to supporting artisanal food producers everywhere. So, if you think you've got something worth showing off, this is the ultimate shop window. Buyers and retailers, restaurateurs and food critics from all over the world come here to hunt down the best.

The larger part of the 600-odd stalls are manned by Italians, exhibiting their fine cheeses, salami, home-made pasta and olive oils in particular, but other countries in Europe, Australasia and the US, South America and South Africa had put a toe in the water, and so had we.

The Slow Food Movement was already focused on our new-wave craft-made cheeses. They had invited Juliet Harbutt (organiser of the annual British cheese awards) to demonstrate the growing range of national treasures, prize cheeses such as Cropwell Bishop Stilton, Double Gloucester, Cornish Yarg and Stinking Bishop.

Bread and cheese apart, the main British presence was provided by a producers' co-operative from Hereford and Worcester, the Teme Valley Market. They put on a display of some 100 products - local cheeses, jams, chutneys, honeys, cakes, cider, perry and local beers. One of the farmers had packed a seven-and-a-half-ton truck and driven for 36 hours, through floods and other perils (including a marathon taking place outside Rheims), to get to the Salone.

The Teme Valley display put to shame the stand manned by Food from Britain. This is a government agency, funded by the taxpayer, but here in Turin they managed to display the wares of no more than five companies. To add insult to injury, they were offering for sale catalogues of UK food producers at a cool £90 a time. These were not being snapped up.

Food from Britain was established 17 years ago to promote British food producers both at home and abroad. But over the years its priorities have changed. Today, while supporting producers at home, it has pulled back from overseas markets, selling off the Food from Britain franchise to agents in each country. It was bold of Food from Britain's Italian franchise to take a stand at the Salone at all, since their request for help from head office in London had been turned down on the grounds of cost.

They were advised to get British producers to pay their own way. And the only ones who came forward were (congratulations): Walkers (shortbreads), Duchy Originals (biscuits), Taylor's of Harrogate (teas), Dr Stuart's botanic teas (such as elderflower and lemon) and, wait for it, Mrs Bridge's sun-dried tomato mustard.

So how did a little farmer's market from Teme Valley succeed where the government-funded Food from Britain failed? "It wasn't easy," says "Wiz" Clift, the organiser. She had approached an EU-funded body called Empowering Local Enterprises and managed to win a grant (50 per cent of their spend, up to a maximum of £4,000). It had been a real battle. "People can't appreciate how little support and understanding agriculture gets from the government or local authorities."

Our bakers, for their part, got sponsorship too; from the Flour Advisory Bureau (whose masters invented white sliced bread). And, in Turin, the Slow Food Movement had arranged for our bakers to use the city's Laboratorio de Panificazione to bake their bread each night.

The group leader, Dan Lepard (co-author of an excellent book on bread), had picked a young team, arguably the cream of modern British baking: Clinton Kay of Sally Clarkes is 22, Matthew Jones of Flour Power not much older, Stuart Powell of Bluebird is 29, Manuel Monade of St John is 36, with Dan Schickentanz of De Gustibus the old man, in his forties. They were welcomed by some retired bakers, like white-haired old characters from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, who demonstrated the mysteries of fashioning 4ft long grissini breadsticks.

Later, the president of the Baker's Association arrived to hand over the key to the bakery. This was not quite the ceremonial action it promised to be: "You turn it twice, then kick the door like this," he explained. "When you're in, lock it. It can be pretty rough here at night."

In the morning Dan and I picked up the bread. The duty bakers, Stuart and Clinton, had retired to bed, leaving out six baskets of magnificent golden loaves, French pain aux noix, English Coburg, bronzed ciabatta, a Puglia bread, oatmeal and honey bread, raisin and rosemary bread and a branch of very crusty rolls, called epi (ears of corn).

At the exhibition hall, cars were being shooed away, but we only had to say "pane" and that password saw us through. And so it was all week, Italians marvelling at the miracle of pane inglese. Stallholders crept up; could they buy a loaf to serve with their cheeses and salamis?

It's hard to imagine a greater tribute to the champions of British slow food who did us so proud in Turin.


A recipe for Italian bread from our English boys in Turin.

Makes 2 focaccia

1 sachet fast-action yeast

680ml/22fl oz warm bottled spring water, about 20C plus

1-2 tablespoons more water if required

1kg/2lb 4oz strong white flour plus extra for dusting

20g/3/4oz Maldon salt, ground fine

1 teaspoon caster sugar

1 tablespoon olive oil plus more for brushing

To finish

Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary (about 1 heaped tablespoon), optional

75ml/21/2fl oz extra virgin olive oil

Coarse Maldon sea salt

In a large bowl whisk together the yeast and the warm water until the yeast has dissolved. Stir in 500g (1lb 2oz) of the flour. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for two hours or until the sponge has risen by at least one-third and is clearly active, with lots of bubbles.

Put the remaining flour in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the dough hook and add the sponge, salt, sugar and oil. Mixing at the lowest speed, work for seven minutes. If the dough is too stiff, add a little more water, a tablespoon at a time. It should be firm and slightly sticky. Increase to full speed and beat for one minute, when you should have an elastic dough that is resilient to the push of a finger and which springs back when you stop pushing.

Turn on to a floured surface and shape into a ball. Oil a bowl large enough to allow the dough to treble in size. Put the dough in and brush the top with a little more olive oil. Cover the top with clingfilm and put to prove in a cool, draught-free place for about two hours. The dough will be moist, sticky and elastic when you take it from the bowl.

Transfer to a heavily floured surface. Tap the dough out firmly with the palm and heel of your hand until it forms a rough rectangle. Fold in half, then in three in the other direction, until the dough is folded like a blanket. Divide it in half, and tap and press out each piece into a rectangle again. Transfer to two floured non-stick Swiss-roll tins, each measuring about 30 by 20cm (13x9in), and push out to fill the tins evenly. Cover each tin with a cloth and leave to rise at room temperature for an hour.

With your fingers, poke holes in the dough, dimpling the surface in straight lines. Sprinkle on the rosemary. Zig-zag the oil over and scatter with salt. Bake in the centre of an oven preheated to 250C/475F/ Gas 9 for 10 minutes. Turn down to 200C/ 400F/Gas 6. Continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes, when it will have risen to 4 to 5cm (about 2in). Remove and leave to cool in the tins. To serve, cut in squares.

From "Baking with Passion" by Dan Lepard and Richard Whittington (Quadrille, £9.99).

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