Fifty years ago this year food scientists based in Chorleywood, north west of London, developed the Chorleywood bread process.
It’s simple really. Rather than knead bread dough for hours on end you speed the whole process up, positively pulverising it. Not only does it reduce the kneading process from at least 30 minutes to around four, it also works to ‘develop’ the proteins in lower quality wheat that would otherwise be unsuitable for bread-making so that it makes a passable loaf.
On Saturday the Real Bread Campaign went along to the Chorleywood Village Day to reclaim the place for ‘real bread’.
I was recording part of an episode for my Radio 4 series on bread with Andrew Whitely, journalist, ‘real bread evangelist’ and author of the excellent Bread Matters.
Andrew was side by side with Gordon Polson of the Federation of Bakers. The body language was so very telling, though sadly you’ll miss that on radio.
My heart, as ever, is with the artisan bakers. I bought an absolutely ravishing olive and feta loaf from a local baker on the real bread campaign stall. I cannot resist the depth of commitment that ‘real bakers’ have to doing something so ‘simple’ so well.
My head though was divided in its sympathies. I agree with Andrew when he says that there are questions to be answered about industrially produced food (Andrew is concerned about the limited labelling, the use of high levels of enzymes and other modern ingredients and the anecdotal evidence that digestive disorders have increased in line with CBP based bread), yet I felt Gordon was right to ask Andrew to be cautious in his criticism of mass produced bread in the absence of sufficient, high-quality research. I fear such research will be a long time coming. No one with the money to fund it has much interest in doing so.
What I hope the ‘real’ afficionados and the industry can agree on is that, as a society, we take our daily bread for granted. It’s become part of the wallpaper of our lives. It deserves our respect and I have no doubt that a fair few large scale bakers would be pleased to offer bread made the traditional way if the market would bear the higher price.
I should also mention Chris Young and thank him for help, advice and inspiration in making the series, and Stan Cauvain, a thirty-five year veteran of the Chorleywood research facility who was game in the face of my demands that he sum up everything that the Chorleywood Bread Process tells us about industrial society in ninety seconds flat. You’re a real gentleman Stan and it was a pleasure to be able to include you in the series.