You know those times when you walk into a supermarket intending to buy bread and you come out with a variety of miscellaneous products that just ‘screamed your name’ as you walked down the aisle? It felt right at the time, you needed that reduced-section cheesecake.
It happens to the best of us, but how many of you have walked into a market to buy bread and come out having spent the day as a store holder?
This exceptional experience happened to me in Borough Market,
London, a few weeks ago (I can already see my friends rolling their eyes back and saying “It would only happen to you”
). Prepare yourself for a wonderful story involving bread, raw milk and cheese, bountiful amounts of sausage, a bit of illegal smoked swan and a whole lot of fun.
So, why was I in London in the first place?
As many of you are aware, I don’t live in London. In fact, I really am quite scared of London: No one smiles, I don’t understand the Tube system, and seeing me walk down Oxford Street is like watching poor, ill-fated Mufasa get trampled by wildebeest.
But, alas, over half of the UK’s emerging, innovative food businesses, events and street food festivals are based in London. I was covering just one of these unique food events, called Milk.Tea.Bread,
hosted by TOAST
. Without too much shameless self-promotion, if you want to read my article about the TOAST event, click here
Unsurprisingly, the event series revolved around our staple foods of milk, tea and bread, uncovering the science, politics and history behind them through panel discussions and tasting sessions. The location for this series was Borough Market, a 1000-year-old gastronomic playground filled with a multitude of organic and artisan foods ranging from truffle oils and wheatgrass shots to freshly made pasta and breads.
The great thing about the TOAST event was that the panellists included experts within fields of journalism, policy and science, but also stallholders and entrepreneurs who own stalls in Borough Market itself. I was captured by the passion, knowledge and high quality products offered by the stallholders, and decided to arrive in London a few hours early and immerse myself in the food smells, samples and stories the Market had to offer.
Little did I expect to become part of the story myself.
It all started with the sausage.
My exceptional Borough Market journey started at a sausage stall, as all good stories should. I must admit, I am not a big sausage fan. It must have been a bad experience with a limp frankfurter, or just the sheer amount of sausage (and beer) consumed in Munich last Christmas.
|Just a fraction of the sausages on sale in Munich
However, my absolute love for free samples outweighs any partiality towards food. In Borough Market, samples are rife. As long as they are not exploited by hungry hands, they do serve a purpose: Through sampling the food, you can truly experience the aroma, texture, initial flavour and after-taste, all helping you better value the product and producer.
During my day at Borough Market, I had free samples of: mushroom pate, slow cooked goat, smoked salmon, partridge with apricots and cashews, fresh tortellini and gnocci, raw yoghurt and cream, oysters with lemon and Tabasco, huge medjool dates, white truffle oil, chocolate brownie, and smoked swan (yes, swan. It was legal, and tasted like very rich steak tar tar with a hint of mackerel…a unique taste sensation).
Let’s not forget the sausage.
Upon entering Borough Market, I stumbled upon Cannon & Cannon’s
charcuterie stall. They provide a bounty of delicious British sausages – in fact, I would bet there is one for every single mood or meal. Hey, they even have a sausage selection for romance, with their online shop
confiming that “Nothing says I love you like a pack of cured meat”.
Right on, Cannon & Cannon, right on.
I got chatting to Antony, a young, bearded stallholder who enticed me with a sample of venison chorizo. It was not spicy enough for me, so I was given a Moon Green’s fiery salami blended with pork fat, chilli and a little fennel. This process went on for a while, allowing for conversation to flow in between samples.
It emerged that, alongside acting as a part-time charcuterie vendor, Antony is a musician (I should have known from the beard). Having a diversity of professions and passions is a common trend in Borough; nearly all stallholders I met and conversed with that day had other side-jobs and ventures. This included network marketing, journalism, dairy consultancy, technological start-ups… It is a fascinating community; everyone has their own story to tell, and their dynamism and determination complements the rich food landscape Borough Market has to offer.
After telling Antony my own story, and justifying why I had been wandering around Borough Market alone for several hours, he invited me to meet several of his fellow stall-holders.
Queue Louise from the Cheese.
Louise from the Cheese
This lady deserves a section all to herself. She is exceptional and one of the most welcoming, warm people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Alongside network marketing and fashion photography, Louise has been working part-time at Borough Market for 15 years.
Her role at the Gorwydd Caerphilly cheese stall
is a recent one, starting only three weeks prior to my arrival. Standing there, wrapped up in at least seven layers and chugging down some raw yoghurt to keep warm, Louise invited me to help out on the Caerphilly cheese stall.
This traditional cheese is produced by the Trethowan family
at Gorwydd Farm, west Wales. It is made from unpasteurised cows’ milk and rennet, using hand-turned processes and traditional moulds. In other words, it is anything but industrial. After two months of fermentation, the resultant cheese is soft like cheddar with a hard rind, and tastes lemony, intense but creamy.
It is also part of Slow Food
: an organisation promoting ‘good, clean, fair’ food around the world by maintaining traditional gastronomic practices, environments and knowledge and educating consumers about the importance of diverse, nutritious and ‘slow’ (rather than fast food) diets.
The Slow Food logo hung proudly on the arches of many stalls in Borough Market, reflected by the sun shining through the traditional warehouse slabs. However, many of the visitors to Borough Market – particularly international tourists – did not know about Slow Food. So, when the opportunity of being in a film about Caerphilly cheese arose (don’t even ask), I took it on myself to explain why we should all appreciate that little snail and what it stands for.
The customers appreciated it, truly.
|Showing off my cheese apron after my film debut
Moving onto crusty bread…
|My head has been replaced by bread.
Finally, I got to the stall I was intending to visit in the first place.
Throughout my stint at the cheese stall, I became accustomed to the flabbergasted looks from Antony at Cannon & Cannon. Things got even better once Louise decided that we should all have some some oysters and champagne as an afternoon ‘snack’. So, the three of us engaged in a strange celebration of new-found friendship, sausage and cheese.
Word travelled fast: The bread stall next to Cannon & Cannon was intrigued by my presence and enthusiasm, and wanted me to come and help them out. So, off I went to Olivier’s Bakery.
Olivier’s Bakery, owned by pastry chef and baker Olivier, entices customers with an array of breads, pastries, brownies and tarts. Rather than try and fail at describing these myself, I thought I should provide this delightful except on their almond croissants:
“Is it a snowy mountain? Is it a mine of fairy dust? No – that teetering mount of whiteness is in fact Olivier’s Bakery’s almond croissants, freshly baked each morning. Look closer, and you’ll see the feathery, flaky pastry and silvery slivers of sliced almonds peeking out from within its frosty depths. Look closer still, and you’ll see the tentative, bulging squidges of ground almond paste, crusting the edges of each croissant…”
Sorry, more Bread Ahead
Another fantastic bread stall is Bread Ahead
, supplying perhaps the most scrumptious, sugar-laced doughnuts known to man. Antony challenged me to try just a bite of their salted caramel doughnut, topped with crisp honeycomb, without finishing the whole thing. I succeeded, but regretfully.
I had the pleasure of meeting Aidan Chapman, one of the master bakers of Bread Ahead, at the TOAST event. He spoke emphatically of how the industrial, Chorleywood
bread process has ‘ripped the soul out of modern baking’,
using low protein flour, artificial additives and preservatives to create a seemingly fresh, fluffy loaf in less than three hours.
The love, knowledge and care that goes into creating a ‘real’ loaf
of bread – baked using only the essentials of yeast, flour, water and salt – is being lost, and Bread Ahead aims to revitalise this passion for artisan, traditional baked goods.
One way of doing this is through their Bakery School
, nestled in the back of Borough Market. Courses range from half-day introductory sessions to three-day masterclasses, with baked goods including French loaves, hot cross buns, sour dough, gluten-free breads, Italian loaves…the list goes on. I am lucky enough to have got myself a space on the full-day ‘Wild About Yeast’
sour dough course in July, so watch this space…
|Aidan presenting at the gluten-free bread workshop
Shot of raw cream, anyone?
After an hour or so, star-jumps and little boxer shuffles were not succeeding in keeping me warm at the Caerphilly cheese stall, so Louise offered me some of her raw yoghurt from Hook & Son.
Frankly, I am hooked. And, it seems like a growing number of UK consumers are too, with Hook & Son currently providing 45% of the UK’s raw, unpasteurised dairy.
I have to admit, before trying unpasteurised dairy, I was sceptical. Why? First, I’m mildly lactose intolerant so too much dairy has…unwanted..side effects. Second, my only prior experience of raw milk was while WWOOFing. I had got up at 5am to milk a cow, only be constantly whipped in the face by its tail and have the bucket of milk kicked over. My labour efforts were rewarded with a brief sip of slightly steamy milk – to say the taste was grassy is an understatement, there were actual bits of grass to chew on.
The Hook & Son’s milk sample was nothing like this, despite having been milked from a cow the previous day. It was fresh, creamy, cold and clean. I will never forget the comment made by Lee-Anna, a dairy consultant, when describing raw milk at the TOAST event:
“It’s like heaven in a glass. The best you’ve ever had”.
One reason many consumers rely on bottled, supermarket milk is risk of illness from drinking raw, ‘live’ milk. Historical accounts of TB and brucellosis through drinking unpasteurised milk started a narrative of ‘raw’ being synonymous with ‘unsafe’ and ‘impure’. Recent research has continued to cement this, suggesting that you are 100x more likely to get ill
from drinking raw versus bottle, pasteurised milk.
I was eager to strip away this dichotomy between ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ dairy, and who better to tell me about the benefits of raw milk than Steve Hook, the ‘Moo Man’ himself.
Living on the wild side, I decided to try not just a sample of raw milk but also a shot of cream. Every fibre of my being my stomach was screaming ‘No, no, anything but dairy!’, but I was assured by Steve that most sufferers are only sensitive to pasteurised milk. The lactase enzyme count is much higher in raw milk, allowing for a faster breakdown of lactose sugars and less digestion effort for our own stomachs. The only potential downside to this is that the milk sours more quickly, but Steve commented that many of his customers buy his raw milk specifically for that sour flavour – something ‘fresher for longer’ supermarket milk cannot provide.
After a long day, I left Borough Market not only filled to the brim with food and drink, but with an immense amount of hope and inspiration. We always talk of how our food system is broken by industry and homogenisation of Western, fast food diets, but these local stories, people and the foods they love and represent are an indication of a growing awareness of what makes good, nutritious and real food.
I encourage you all to go and visit Borough yourself, gorge on delicious samples and spark up a conversation with the stall holders – you won’t regret it.