tct12: leeds bread co-opBack
For coffee and cafes, Leeds city centre is the rival of anywhere when it comes to end product. Amid the shopping centres and the office blocks and the apartment blocks are fully-stocked counters and enthusiastic servers, all just a few feet of York stone pavement away from where you were standing hungrily already. Under the pavement, the beach, as Paris’ students had it in 1968; through the door, the lunch, in Leeds in 2014.
Not all of Leeds has the grand smoothness of Boar Lane or Briggate, though. Even close to the centre Leeds has a ragged edge, echoes of an early industrial past that never quite forgot what it was to be rural, even as the centuries intruded. It’s a bit like that between Scott Hall Road and Meanwood Road. To drive from one to the other you can go around by Sheepscar Junction, if the signs and the six lane carriageways don’t tempt you away to the motorway; or you can take Buslingthorpe Lane, which is barely two lanes at some points, crossing Meanwood Beck as you meander between converted mills on one side and derelict mills on the other, beneath a steep wooded hillside held back by elderly stone walls. Somewhere around here Lord Whitney are building a treehouse, and it’s not long since you could buy cheap rocking chairs if you knew where to look. Down one lane and largely forgotten is the large old house of the Scott Hall itself – although it’s not the original.
Also down here is Penraevon Industrial Estate. It is what it sounds like, but within its breeze block walls and sheet metal roofs are the stirrings of a smaller scale industrial food revolution that might not be as visible as the shopfronts and stalls of the city centre, but is just as vital to making Leeds a place that makes and enjoys good food.
“You can’t get nice bread everywhere,” says Phil Dacey of Leeds Bread Co-operative, who have Unit 18 at Penraevon. “In fact most bread is pretty rubbish. You can’t get the sort of bread we make anywhere else in Leeds; the nearest place I know of is near Halifax, at the Handmade Bakery in Slaithwaite.
“Part of the reason that I started baking bread is because I wanted to eat that sort of bread and I couldn’t buy it anywhere else. That’s the attraction – I wouldn’t be doing it if I was making quick, easy, factory bread.
Phil started the co-op with Simon Garrod – better known as Zig – Ian Fitzpatrick and now Lizzie Fellows, while running the Riverside Sourdough Bakery at Dock Street Market. “Zig had been working in bakeries for about 15–20 years, and Ian worked at E5 Bakehouse in London which does more artisan bread like we’re doing. Me and Zig met working at Riverside and decided we wanted to open something of our own, so we spent a year putting this together.”
The time spent putting the bakery together reflects the time required to make the sort of artisan bread that comes from Leeds Bread Co-op – delicious bread is not quick bread.
“With factory bread they go from dry ingredients to a baked loaf in about ninety minutes,” says Phil. “We start with sourdough culture. It’s got lots of lactic acid bacteria which is what gives yoghurt its tang. It’s a live culture of yeast, we take that and combine it with different flours, different amounts of water and flour growing the yeast. We make that into a loaf for the fridge where it will set overnight, and then the next day we’ll bake it.
“So what takes a factory ninety minutes, for our sourdough takes us three days – it’s just a different sort of product. It tastes a thousand times better, it lasts longer, it’s arguably better for you – and it just feels like it’s worth doing.”
Captains of progress might tell you that un-engineering a ninety minute process to take three days is a retrogressive step, but while the mechanisation of British bread guaranteed that the country’s shelves could be stocked after the second world war, it also got us used to a kind of bread that lacks the flavour enjoyed in Europe. There’s a reason butter and toast are so popular in Britain – it’s to give the bread some taste.
“I think it’s understandable in this country that the mechanical process was a response to food security worries after the war,” says Phil. “It enabled factories to use 100% British wheat, which is very difficult to do – you can’t really make the kind of bread we’re making with British wheat because the climate doesn’t produce the right sort of wheat with the right volume. So it was a response to food security and making a cheap product that everyone could enjoy, but along the way we lost the flavour and the nutrition, while other countries didn’t. Poland have massive bread plants and factories, but they make it in a traditional way, using hand labour skills.”
With a local week-round supplier of artisan bread of European flavour and quality on the edge of the city centre, the shops, cafes and traders the co-op supply have the bread they need to support higher quality menus. “Our rye bread is one of my favourites, you can slice it super thin and have it with all sorts of foods,” says Phil. “I started making it because I really like a sandwich called a reuben, that they do down at The Greedy Pig – it’s salt beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and gherkins, and you’ve got to have it on a light deli rye – it’s really good.
“Most of our business is wholesale, and people do use our bread to add value – so they’ll make a sandwich out of it. And the nice thing about working with people that we know and small producers is that we can tweak the recipe – originally we supplied The Grub & Grog Shop with a straight ciabatta, which is really good if it’s really fresh, within about five hours of coming out of the oven – I altered the recipe, put some olive oil in and some wheatgerm, and got it to a point where it lasts longer and it suits their business model and it suits ours. It’s really good to be able to work like that.”
Leeds Bread Co-op aren’t at the Polish level of production yet, but from May 2014 production will be increased from two to six days a week, so more of their bread will be turning up in more places. “We’ve got enough capacity to take on a few more bakers,” says Phil. “We’re running at about a quarter capacity so we’ve got plenty of life left in this unit. We want to get more bread out to more people, so that’s where we’re going.”
Originally published in The City Talking Leeds: Issue 12