Bread has always been a symbol of transformation. The simple yet seemingly magical chemical process of yeast to feast represents the evolutionary metamorphosis from beast to man, the religious metamorphosis of man to God and the social metamorphosis of stranger to friend. It is the humble, satisfying stuff of life.
So how has it become a shunned dough-bomb of death?
Talk to a woman in January and more likely than not she’ll be off the loaf. Carbs are killers, of course, and after the shockingly unrestrained sensuality of Christmas it’s time to impose some rules, and circumscribe our lives to a pot of miso soup.
So you must be sure not to think of The Bread Shop’s warm granary cleat, which smells of new hay, tastes of Thomas Hardy novels, and is so dense with tiny sweet seeds that it peppers your teeth with post-lunch surprises.
Don’t think of Princi’s soft focaccia chunk, sopping in balsamic and dissolving on the tongue, topped with a golden salted rosemary crust and quilted with pinpricks to soak up the oil.
Don’t think of Daylesford’s dark fruity rye, squat and rich and stuffed with walnuts and dates like a Tudor king, demanding that a smooth slice of best continental Comte submit sweetly to its solid crumb.
Above all, don’t think of sourdough, not for a second. Don’t let the memory of that shrewdest of breads, that tough, tangy, lactobactillic favourite of gold prospectors and pioneers, disturb your pious peace. You can keep your floppy rapiers of French stick; my perfect bread is a golden shield, a sturdy trencher with a chew factor that can bruise your jaw. As capable of cradling a heavy slop of chowder as supporting a smear of lightest goat’s cheese, sourdough nevertheless refuses to become a flavourless foil like most modern sliced.
It’s no coincidence that this is the loaf Lionel Poilâne devoted his life to making the ultimate everyday eat. Sourdough is a triumph of flavour over function, history over homogeneity, and a basic human right.
OK, sorry, sorry. Not helping? Let’s think about wine instead.
Tell me you’re joking.