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Farming Thinking

The secret to saving our blue planet

21st March 2018

Sole of Discretion, a fishing co-operative based in Plymouth England, was the first wild fishing company in the UK to be accredited Organic by the Soil Association.

Using only static nets and hand liners, these fishers are helping to preserve fish stocks and the ecology of the seabed for future generations.

Farmdrop paid a visit to Plymouth to hear their incredible journey and the tastier and more transparent world they’re helping to build.

Sole of Discretion’s high-quality and sustainable fish is exclusively available to buy direct from

Farming Thinking

How supermarkets ruined pork

21st March 2018
  • New campaign positions pork as healthy a chicken but a staggering 90% of all pork sold in the UK is intensively farmed.
  • Lizzie Rivera reveals the truth behind the pork we eat, the murky world of food labelling, and how supermarket dominance is at fault.  

Free-range pigs at Fernhill-Farm. This type of high-welfare farming is far removed from the reality of how much of British pork is made.

Pork is making a comeback. Its decline in popularity has been so slow you may not have noticed it – but farmers and supermarkets have. So a new campaign has been launched to rekindle our love of the majestic-sounding pork medallion, firstly by taking on chicken (whose popularity has soared) and secondly by taking on the Oxford English Dictionary.

Yep, a pig farmer hit headlines last week by formally requesting the phrases ‘pig-out’, ‘eat like a pig’ and ‘porker’ are removed from the dictionary because they are offensive to the animals that are, in reality, no greedier than any others.

In fact, British pigs are now 44% leaner than they were in the 1970s, while us greedy-hogs – oops! humans – are 30% fatter, according to the latest data from the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board.

Pork drops: how we fell out of love with pork

The new Love Pork campaign encourages people to eat more pork but 90% of all pork sold in the UK is intensively farmed.

Sales of pork fell by 8% between 2013 and last year, with around one million fewer households buying pork. Meanwhile sales of chicken, touted as the healthy white meat, soared by 18%.

A significant factor of this decline may have been the World Health Organisation’s warning in 2015 that processed and cured meat ranked alongside cigarettes as a cause of cancer.

The evidence that links a high intake of red and processed meat to poor health is growing according to the British Dietetic Association (BDA). It is not yet clear why this is, but one theory is the higher saturated fat or salt intake in foods such as burgers and sausages, and the typically un-healthier lifestyles of the people who regularly consume these foods.

The key point here is “high intake”. Dr Frankie Phillips, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the BDA, says the official recommendation is to eat less than 70g of red meat per day – about the amount in a pork medallion.

She also highlights how pork is also rich in protein and provides a source of a range of essential vitamins and minerals.

Hence the new “Love Porkmarketing campaign, which presents pork as healthy as chicken by highlighting that a pork medallion contains a whole 0.03g less saturated fat than a skinless chicken breast.

So, we can eat pork as often as we do chicken. Right? Well, not quite…

Telling porkies: health claims and intensive farming

As our last report on chicken investigated, there’s a lot more to the arguments for how “healthy” a meat is for you than the simplistic fat and protein content marketing message. And there’s a huge range of pork to choose from – from intensively reared to free-range and organic.

So, while “Love Pork”  is not telling outright porkies, they’re not telling the whole truth either because the way a pig is farmed has a significant impact on its nutritional value.

And that is another reason we’re seeing a decline of meat sales generally – consumer concern for animal welfare.

A report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism last year revealed that the number of intensive farms (housing 2,000 pigs for grown meat) in the UK has risen by a quarter since 2011. “Mega Farms”, which hold at least 2,500 pigs, are also increasing at a concerning pace with the largest UK pig farm able to hold a staggering 23,000 pigs.

Piglets suckling their mother on an intensive pig farm.

Intensive farming now accounts for an incredible 90% of all pork sold in the UK, according to Philip Lymbery, chief executive Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).

When it comes to pigs, what passes as acceptable is pretty horrifying. Piglets are born to sows in farrowing crates, which are so small the sows can’t even turn around.

The piglets compete with one another for teats that aren’t providing enough milk for them all, so they have their teeth painfully clipped to minimise damage when fighting to suckle.

“That’s not a pig, that’s a genetic monster who’s lived in a shed all its life.”

Unstimulated, their tails will have been docked by the time they are transferred to pens at three weeks old (without anaesthetic if they were under seven days old) to stop them causing serious damage when they bite each other as their boredom turns to aggression. The growing pigs live on hard slatted floors so the excrement they live in can conveniently be washed away.

Fed growth hormones to grow quickly, commercially reared pigs are ready for slaughter from five months old, twice as fast as higher welfare breeds which grow at a more natural pace.

They are fattened up on cereals and are fed routine antibiotics because diseases spread quickly in tightly packed conditions and they haven’t fed from their mother for long enough to build up immunity. In September 2016, a study by organic certification body Soil Association revealed 63% of pork samples contained antibiotic-resistant E. coli.

Farms Not Factories have campaigned against the intensive farming of pigs – a farming system which is heavily reliant on antibiotics.

“In Britain, a nation of animal lovers, most of our pigs are in factory farms in conditions that in my view can only be described as utter deprivation,” says Lymbery, who believes it’s supermarkets who have benefited from this centralisation of supply.

Intense competition between the supermarkets and their tiny margins mean that meat has become cheaper than ever. The farmers themselves have been forced into levels of efficiency that have never been seen before – and that includes pushing animals to grow at unnatural rates. As one farmer explains it: “That’s not a pig, that’s a genetic monster who’s lived in a shed all its life.”

But over the last decade supermarkets have also realised consumers want their animals to be treated better. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have to treat the animals better – just market them to suggest this is the case.

The word ‘fresh’ leads to 30% of consumers to believe products are more free-range than they are

Lymbery says: “Packaging on animal products can be designed to make consumers feel better about what they are buying. Pictures of animals happily grazing in rolling fields do nothing to inform people of the truth about how farm animals are actually raised.”

He points to research that shows simply adding the word ‘fresh’ leads to about 30% of consumers believing products are more free-range than they actually are.

Even worse, when I asked David Clarke, CEO of Red Tractor, which certifies 85% of pig farms, what are the advantages of “outdoor bred pork” (which means the pigs are born outdoors and raised indoors) his reply is: “The advantages are some people are prepared to pay more money for it because they think it’s better welfare.”

Happy as a pig…outdoors

A free-range, organic pig at Purton House Organics farm in Wiltshire.

At the other end of the spectrum a luckier 10% of pigs are raised in truly higher-welfare, free-range and organic conditions.

Pigs are very sociable animals and when given the chance they will happily spend their days grazing or rooting the ground with their sensitive snouts – or wallowing in the mud to cool down. If it’s cold, shelter with plenty of straw is their perfect hideaway.

Given the opportunity to behave naturally, pigs on these farms will automatically designate themselves a toilet area – away from where they live and eat.

This style of farming goes hand-in-hand with passionate and enthusiastic farmers fighting to keep the rarest pig breeds in existence – such as the Gloucester Old Spot, The British Saddleback and The Tamworth.

At Fernhill Farm, there are just two Saddleback sister sows, who each have the potential to produce about 24 piglets a year. These animals get to live as a family unit in eight acres of land and rotate around the woodlands and gardens to cultivate, fertilise, clear scrub and help to reclaim unmanaged woodlands.

One of Fernhill Farm’s two saddleback sows with one of her piglets.

“We consider them as part of the team, clearing up windfall apples, garden and vegetable waste, weeds and consuming large quantities of fodder beet throughout winter,” says owner Jennifer Hunter.

“To us they form part of our holistic approach to farming rather than a stand alone business. Pigs were my first love after studying animal behaviour and they sure do deliver on bringing a bit of joy into our lives.”

The Saddleback is one of the original British breeds of pig and is gentle and quiet perfectly suited to life outdoors, with great bacon potential.

Rare breeds have been phased out of commercial farms because they don’t grow quickly enough, but unsurprisingly the quality of the meat is incomparable. It will have depth of colour and be full of flavour, fry beautifully in its own fat and it won’t release grungy water.

Some British farmers are even turning rare breed meat into charcuterie – with impressive results. British Salami from Marsh Pig, for example, typically has a third less fat so you get all of the flavour without the greasy after taste.

Of course, meat from these pigs is more expensive – and some cuts can cost the same price as a steak. It’s a tough sell to re-educate consumers who have lost touch with how their food is really produced. But, somewhat ironically, these pigs need to be eaten so they can continue to be farmed and ensure the survival of the breeds.

Going the whole hog

The rise in popularity of nose-to-tail eating means even a pig’s head now comes with a price tag of about £15, whereas butchers were literally giving them away a few years ago.

Yet, the head is still the most undervalued part of the pig, according to chef James Golding, who uses it to make Bath-chaps (cured and smoked pork cheeks), braised cheeks and crispy ears.

As chef director of The Pig ‘restaurant with rooms’, who rear their own pigs, you’d expect Golding to be a big fan of pork.

“It is so versatile and tasty, whether you’re roasting a shoulder for dinner or making a paté, every product is packed full of flavour,” he says. But there’s one condition.

“As long as it’s responsibly reared, it’s a beautiful meat.” To Golding, the difference between a quality piece of pork and a cheap one is huge.

“The depth of flavour is the biggest difference and the smell is intense. We finish our pigs on apples and it does transfer into the meat, it’s delicious.”

The message to eat less but higher welfare meat is no longer just about animal welfare but human health as well.

The difference between low-welfare and high-welfare farming also impacts the nutritional value. For example, the biggest nutritional difference between organic meat and non-organic is that organic meat contains around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, according to a report published in the British Journal of Nutrition. Plus, organic meat was found to have slightly lower concentrations of two saturated fats linked to heart disease.

Organic and truly free-range pigs are reared without the routine use of drugs, antibiotics and wormers common in intensive farming. This is especially important in light of reports highlighting how the overuse of antibiotics in farming is undermining the treatment of infections in humans.

Suddenly the advice to eat meat less often so we can afford to eat better quality doesn’t seem so unreasonable, it seems necessary.

This is where buying cheaper, less common cuts can provide the best of both worlds. The meaty chump, from the rump, is easy to cook in a pan or under the grill. The cheek, from the other end of the pig, is fatty and great in a stew. Deboning, stuffing and rolling the loin can make it go further – and removing the skin to make a tasty crackling makes this go further still. Of course, the shoulder can be slow-roasted until tasty and tender, but it can also be minced for a delicious, slow-grown and slow-cooked ragu.

Lizzie Rivera is a journalist and founder of BICBIM, London’s ethical food and fashion guide, covering the eco-friendly and ethical brands that produce top-quality food, fashion and experiences. 

Shop for high-welfare and organic pork at

Discover more about the effects of factory farming on our food:


Meet the Peckham artisans on the cutting edge of handmade knives

16th March 2018

Mass-produced blades may dominate the average kitchen, but British artisans are fighting back. Hugh Thomas reveals the craft behind Blenheim Forge’s handmade knives, forged in Peckham and inspired by Japan, in a new kind of daily grind.

James Ross-Harris giving good grind at Blenheim Forge in Peckham.

It could be straight out of Great Expectations: a dusty grotto, tucked under a Victorian railway arch, where trains rumble and clack overhead. There’s a grinder made from bits of engine and a beer barrel. 20 or so santoku handmade knives lined up on a wooden rack. A couple of heavy cleavers, handle-less, lie flat-side down next to them.

James Ross-Harris, who’s just greeted me with a sooty hand, is running the forge today. He hands me one of the santoku knifes – a multi-purpose kitchen blade shorter and with less of a rounded edge than its European chef knife equivalent – which the forge produces on a daily basis. Even with a copper rung at the top of the handle to provide balance, it’s light – much lighter than the Mercer knife I use everyday at home. The blade fades from black to grey, like where a half moon meets the night sky. Towards the edge, a dozen thin silver lines run from heel to tip. ‘It’s blue paper steel mostly,’ says James. ‘From Hitachi in Japan. It’s very pure with a lot of carbon in it, which means it’ll hold a good edge. Pain to get a hold of, and not cheap.’

Santoku knifes made from Japanese steel are a good introductory, multipurpose blade for the hand forged knife newbie.

Blenheim Forge’s team of three, James Ross-Harris, Richard Warner and Jon Warshawsky, produce 20 to 30 of santoku knives a week. A couple of days’ work ­– forging, heating, cooling, cutting, bashing, grinding, polishing, and oiling – goes into each one. That’s without taking the sculpting and gluing of the wooden handles into account. James points to a slab of timber in the corner, soon to be cut down. ‘That’s bog oak. It’s 5,300 years old.’

“If you made 100,000 of our knives, and put them in John Lewis, it’d be a disaster.”

It’s a bit of a contrast to how chef’s knives are industrially made today in large, pristine factories with precision lasers and oscillating robot arms. These factories punch out hundreds of knives a day, which end up in anywhere from supermarkets to cook shops. The commercial kitchen knife business is a lucrative one, but James and his team have no such aspirations.

The blade of Blenheim Forge’s Gyuto knife made from with Japanese blue paper steel core and folded iron cladding.

‘If you made 100,000 of our knives, and put them in John Lewis, it’d be a disaster,’ says James. ‘Half of them would come back broken, because they’re high performance tools not meant to be chucked around. In the shops they have to be stainless steel, as people will want to put them in the dishwasher. And they can’t have a super-fine edge because people are going to try open tins of beans with them.’

Back garden beginnings

To begin with, James wasn’t interested in making knives. What fascinated him more was the Japanese technique of laminating which involves folding layers of steel and iron (iron the forge reclaim from what James describes as ‘old anchor chains and stuff’) together. ‘The more you get into it, the more you realise the Japanese style is a smart way to make a knife – you’re using a small amount of high quality material in the right place.’

Dirty work: Jon Warshawsky at Bleinheim Forge heating metal.

It’s very difficult to do, and takes blacksmiths years to perfect. But with a bit of patience and luck, while using a forge he put together with a leaf blower, firebricks and bits of old steel, James was able to hammer out a decent knife in his back garden. ‘Get half a ton of coal delivered to your house, and you’re off, basically.’

That was a few years ago. Now, the waiting list for one of Blenheim Forge’s knives often dips into three weeks. Tim Hayward is a fan, and Jay Rayner’s got a set. Francis Mallmann, the Argentinian chef who appeared on Chef’s Table, came into the forge and ‘bought shit loads’, as James says. They’ve even had a couple of orders from Japan, and may soon be stocking their British-made Japanese knives in a knife shop over there.

“These are tools meant to be used.”

There are plenty willing to buy these blades. But the problem is getting people to want to use them. Attitudes aren’t unlike splashing out on a Lamborghini, only to roll it out the garage twice a year. ‘We run sharpening courses,’ says James. ‘And people come in and their knives are still sharp. Sometimes we need to remind people these are tools meant to be used.’

Sure, a £240 tool needs the odd bit of maintenance. But that needn’t be as daunting as it sounds. Being steel, the blades can rust. So the most important part of looking after a knife like this is to keep it dry after using ­– storing it with a thin coat of oil on the steel, for example, certainly helps. To anyone who already cooks with carbon steel pans at home, this will sound all too familiar.

Let sparks fly: Hot metal being bashed into shape.

Then there’s the issue of sharpening, which is actually more of a hassle with stainless steel knives, as they’re a much softer compound. James recommends using a whetstone once every three or four months and forgetting the honing steel – a steel rod used to realign blade edges – because it tends to whittle too much material from the blade. ‘Unless you have a high end steel, like diamond steel, and in the right hands, the blade is so hard it’ll just skate off it.’

A handmade knife revolution?

These are things we’d be more clued up on 50 or so years ago, when you’d see smiths making knives in a similar way to Blenheim Forge, but on a grander scale. It’s strange to think that, going back another 50 years, Britain ­– especially Sheffield ­– was famous for its steelmaking. Looking at what’s going on in this little workshop, and in other smiths around the country, you’d be tempted to call it part of a grander revitalisation in Britain’s artisan steel industry. Could that be the the case? Or is this just three young chaps in a grimy railway arch knocking out super-sharp chefs’ tools? Either way, they’re doing a darn good job of it.

Enjoy the simpler things in life? Treat yourself to a rural farm-stay getaway at home or abroad or visit one of the best staycation worthy restaurants just outside of London.

Or for something even closer to home, try these all-natural kitchen spring cleaning hacks and make a nice home for your new handmade knives.


Homegrown talent: Meet the florists backing British blooms

8th March 2018

We’re proud of our food, so why not British flowers? The UK spends more than £2 billion on cut flowers per year, but around 90% are imported. Meet the new breed of florists helping the homegrown industry blossom.

The Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall grow and source all of their British flowers from their historic gardens, meadows and surrounding land.

The Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall grow and source all of their British flowers from their historic gardens, meadows and surrounding land.

If there’s one thing the English are known for, outside of tea and biscuits, it’s that we know how to grow a jolly good garden. It may then come as surprise to find out that only 12% of flowers sold in the UK are British.

However if you’re you British flower grower, this 30-year long battle now looks like it may be at a turning point.

What happened to the British flower industry?

In the 1950s domestic production occupied the majority of the British flower market.

Things changed when the Dutch government invested heavily in their flower industry. State-led subsidies helped the industry grow quickly by producing flowers at a lower price and more efficiently than competitors — and so the world-famous Dutch flower industry was born.

The warehouse of a Dutch flower market.

By the 1980s British florists welcomed the opportunity to distinguish themselves by working with new varieties whilst benefiting from savings on competing products. This coincided with the parallel rise of the supermarket in Britain.

Supermarkets now occupy almost 60% of UK flower sales today, with florists contributing to around 25%. It’s interesting that this is opposite to the trend in other Western European countries where, ‘on average, florists account for the majority of sales and supermarkets contribute around a fifth’, according to Amy Gray, Horticultural Advisor to the National Farmers Union.

“In the 1970’s there were over 120 Chrysanthemum growers producing some 60 million stems a year. By 2013, there were only 3 growers left,” says Gray. It looks the supermarket habit is one we Brits find hard to shake.

How sustainable is your bunch of flowers?

The demand for a variety of fresh cut flowers all year round and a market driven by high volumes and low prices led to the high amount of imports into the UK. However, an awareness is gathering pace amongst growers and consumers alike who are conscious that it’s not only the price that’s unsustainable.

Tulip plantation in a greenhouse.

Dutch imports are mass-cultivated in huge fields and glasshouses across Europe and developing countries such as Africa or South America. These flowers are sprayed with chemicals preservatives – such as ethylene blocking chemicals to delay ripening – to see them through the journey  where they are  flown, or sometimes shipped, across time zones.

Then there’s the impact of this gargantuan supply chain on the health and labour standards of the people picking and processing these flowers around the world.

Why now’s the time for home-grown blooms to shine

British flowers can now begin to compete with cheap imports as subsidies are being phased out and the cost of production  is rising. Perceptions are also starting to change as consumers are demanding traceability and quality.

Much like the growing market for specialist food producers, British growers can enjoy an integrity of provenance, freshness and an ability to offer something different from the mainstream. These qualities have captured independent florists who are seeing customers change their minds about what they want.

A new breed of British florist

British florists are growing their own and using seasonal stems instead of relying on flown. After making a documentary for the BBC about the history of the British flower industry in 2007, the Shropshire-based florist Juliet Glaves decided to take control and start a flower farm for her own use.

Homegrown talent: Meet the florists backing British flowers

Florist Juliet Glaves gathering flowers she’s grown on her Shropshire farm.

On the loss of the majority of UK growers, Glaves explains: “What was once a thriving industry had become a shadow of its former glory within the space of just 30 years. It seemed especially sad because our climate is perfect for flower-growing.”

Following in the footsteps of her nurseryman uncle and florist aunt, she bought a pig farm and set about overseeing the whole process — harvesting to arranging her own flowers.

The Tregothnan Estate sell 100% British flowers and foliage direct to consumers grown on the largest, historic, botanic garden in Cornwall. Set over 100 acres, house flowers were historically an important part of the gardeners’ duties.

Bella Percy-Hughes, who works at the gardens says: “We specialise in wild Cornish flowers and our florists are familiar with what we grow  – they’re tasked with picking them. You get to know your favourites too and look forward to the time when they come around - there’s a real beauty in that.”

Homegrown talent: Meet the florists backing British flowers

Florist Hazel Gardiner has seen a rise in an interest in provenance.

North London-based florist Hazel Gardiner has also noticed a gear change in demand: “Customers often ask about provenance. Many imported flowers have a significant carbon footprint, are grown using pesticides and have predominantly less scent. Naturally grown, seasonal British flowers have an intoxicating perfume and a non-identical beauty that elevates them above imported competition.”

Growers going wild and native

Britain’s climate is ideal for growing flowers in tune with natural rhythms of the year. Cornwall in particular has a unique microclimate, making it possible to cultivate varieties not available elsewhere. “We grow Manuka and put them in our edible bouquets” says Bella. “We’re the only place outside of New Zealand to grow it.”

Homegrown talent: Meet the florists backing British flowers

An archway of Camellia trees at the Tregothnan Estate.

Mid-June to mid-October is the height of the British flower season. At Tregothanan “tulips, stocks and daffs are in abundance at the moment but it changes weekly. As we get deeper into summer, the list gets wider and we savour the season ,” says Bella.

Currently, there is no overarching grower association to promote the British cut flower industry. However, Yorkshire farmer Gill Hodgson set up not-for-profit group Flowers from the Farm in 2011 to encourage more homegrowing in order to reduce imports and make less familiar varieties available to the public. With now over 500 members, it’s the UK’s biggest network of cut flower growers on a mission to “get local blooms back into every vase”.

So, will you be backing British blooms this Mother’s Day?

Discover our range of seasonal British flowers delivered via train from Cornwall from the historic Tregothnan Estate at

Why we pay British farmers double what they get at supermarkets and how you’re saving farmers with each shop.


5 reasons you’ll never find real sourdough bread at the supermarket

23rd February 2018

Supermarket ‘sourdough’ is a con (hear, hear Joanna Blythman). With only three ingredients – flour, water, salt – real sourdough bread is plain and simple, just how bread should be. Here’s the truth about the supermarket loaf.

5 reasons you’ll never find real sourdough bread at the supermarket

White sourdough loaves in the wood fired oven at BreadBread Bakery, Brixton. Photo: Nigel Akehurst.

The increase in sales of the tangy, complex-flavoured, actually-fills-you-up sourdough made by artisans has prompted supermarkets to produce their own versions. Importantly, they fail to mention how these versions are fake.  The word ‘sourdough’ on a label dupes consumers into thinking buying the real thing. Significantly, these loaves can come with some potential serious health consequences too. Bread is filled with additives thanks to the big baking industry. Now they’re trying to jump on the bandwagon by mimicking the real deal in guise of ‘sourdough’. With no legal definition of sourdough bread and retailers not obliged to list the ingredients of breads baked in-store, it’s time to clear things up.

Here’s the truth about your supermarket loaf and why you won’t find a real sourdough in one:

1. Real sourdough takes time, (we’re talking days)

A true sourdough is never quick to produce, which goes against all the principles of the classic industrial supply chain supermarkets live by. The slow process required to make proper sourdough bread is what helps make the bread easier to digest and can help those with intolerances. By definition, mass-production means making a lot in little time. Big bakers speed up the process by adding commercial yeast, along with other ingredients, to optimise their speedy product. Modern authentic sourdough bread is made in the same way as it was thousands of years ago. This is a process that demands the slow fermentation of a simple dough made with the golden trio of ingredients. Our bakers at BreadBread produce loaves that need 24-hours just for the fermentation part. You could say that all that’s needed is flour, water, salt, and time – imagine the horror in the supermarket boardroom at that.

Real sourdough loaves cooling at BreadBread bakery. Photo: Nigel Akehurst.

2. Real sourdough is natural

What defines ‘sourdough’? Sourdough is a method of leavening bread using natural, wild yeasts and lactobacilli bacteria naturally present in ground grain. Not commercially produced yeasts and an arsenal of undeclared additives – aka, ‘processing aids’ that can include: extra yeast for speed; extra fat for softness; emulsifiers for bigger loaves; and preservatives for a longer shelf-life that, importantly, can be used in any type of bread. That’s right, that’s the same stuff that goes into a light-as-air loaf of white sliced. If you’re a supermarket, and you don’t need to disclose your ingredients, then this pretty much means anything. How can you be sure a loaf like this is actually anything that resembles the real thing, when there’s no legal definition? The proof will be in the taste, when you wonder: where’s the sour in the sourdough? Where’s the moreish stoneground flour flavour, the satisfying crust and chewy texture? Where’s the natural beauty behind everything that makes real sourdough bread so bloomin’ delicious?

3. Real sourdough isn’t cheap

There are many reasons why cheap sourdough simply doesn’t exist. The process to make it isn’t fast, so the ‘time-is-money’ approach just doesn’t work here. A loaf naturally contains so few ingredients, any baker who calls themselves artisanal should take pride in selecting the best for the job. Organic British traditionally stone-ground flour is more expensive and flavourful than imported, commercially produced flour used in mass-produced bread.  To make sourdough properly also requires the actual hands of an actual baker (goodbye Chorleywood Process). Which leads us to….

5 reasons you’ll never find real sourdough bread at the supermarket

Bakers at work dividing dough and kneading by hand at BreadBread Bakery. Photo: Nigel Akehurst.

4. Real sourdough demands skill

A true sourdough bread begins with a ‘starter’ – a mixture of flour and water. The mixture is fermented over several days with further additions of flour and water where wild yeasts present in the air and lactobacilli bacteria naturally present in ground grain are left to do their thing. Whilst the process itself is simple – you don’t need a tonne of equipment beyond what’s in your kitchen – it can take a little learning to know what you’re doing. Bakers add this starter to their dough and leave their loaves to rise over several hours, letting the magic come in the creative process of getting that lactic acid tang or rye to wheat ratio just right.

Did you know, thanks to generations of skilled bakers, centuries-old sourdough starters are used in baking today? The team at BreadBread are proud to use a mighty 500-year-old mother starter in their sourdoughs. The starter (when fed correctly and housed in the right conditions) can be lovingly kept alive, it means you’re literally eating a piece of history. Pass the butter.

5. Real sourdough won’t last three months

And thank goodness for that. Andrew Whitley, the Cumberland baker who co-founded the Real Bread Campaign in 1990, recalls the time he “kept a loaf of wrapped sliced bread for three months without it losing its squishy texture, or going mouldy”. He called it: “a defiance of nature: it’s an abuse of language to call it freshness.” Whilst we haven’t conducted our own rigorous testing of exactly how long a supermarket ‘sourdough’ will last, you can be sure that by cutting the long fermentation process, the result will need something to help it have a shelf-life. Real sourdough bread doesn’t go mouldy as such, just a bit hard, and that’s about it. So you won’t see it covered in a blanket of blue mould any time soon.

So there you have it, there really is no such thing as a supermarket ‘sourdough’. As baker Andreas Bajohra at BreadBread aptly puts it: “I just don’t think there is a shortcut to making this type of product. You have to have the right ingredients, the right skills and importantly, you have to take the time. I don’t think the supermarkets are able or willing to put any of that in.”

This article was originally published in January 2017.

Say no to Sourfaux! Support independent bakeries this #RealBreadWeek running from 24 February to 4 March 2018.

Discover real sourdough bread baked by Brixton’s BreadBread bakery at

Watch the video to learn how Bridget Hugo, founder of BreadBread Bakery and Franco Manca makes bread the good old fashioned way.

Don’t miss Bridget’s game-changing tips to help keep your sourdough bread fresher for longer.


Plastic packaging – what we’re doing to improve

19th February 2018

When we set out to fix the food chain we defined four key pillars to combat the horrors of mass-produced food: 1. Sustainable land stewardship. 2. Paying farmers fairly. 3. Local as possible sourcing. 4. Highest possible animal welfare.

Our business impact on the world is always top of mind. We continue to run a 100% electric delivery fleet at the expense of being able to serve a wider geography. Reducing packaging we thought would be easy. We began by removing carrier bags as a standard way to pack all items into crates. It was pretty good at the time compared to the grocery category, but it’s clear we need to go much further.

Over the last few weeks as media and customer attention has brought plastic into sharp focus we’ve had to accept that our packaging standards are falling behind our brand promise and your expectations. So what are we doing about it?



1. The end of the dreaded white paper & plastic-fronted bag for fruit and vegetables

You hate these bags; we hate these bags. We’ve road tested a number of alternatives (with many failures) and finally have a replacement set to go live. By April ’18 fruit/veg currently packed with Farmdrop-supplied white paper bags with clear plastic fronts will be replaced by 100% recycled paper bags for items under 500g and fully home compostable bags for heavier items. These compostable bags will be accepted by local councils as food waste and will make ideal food bin liners. Single item fruit and veg will continue to arrive with no packaging whatsoever.

2. Removing degradable bags for chilled products

We are required by food safety standards to put meat and fish in a barrier bag to avoid cross contamination. Currently this is a degradable plastic bag which will be replaced with a fully home compostable bag, due to go live April ’18.

3. Reusable coolant crates

We formerly used plastic Woolcool bags to transport all chilled items. The bags were reusable – but had a short lifespan and created waste. At the end of last year we moved to a specially designed reusable thermal crate and sustainable coolants which the drivers take away with them. These can be used up to 1000 times, and then recycled at the end of their lifespan.

Unfortunately, we aren’t able to leave these crates with our customers, so we still use Woolcool bags for customers who won’t be in to keep chilled products at temperature. The Woolcool bag and coolants can be returned to Farmdroppers and are re-used.

4. Return and reuse

We are championing producers who can reuse their own packaging. Mylkman supply all nut milks in glass bottles that can be collected by Farmdroppers and returned to the producer for reuse. Ratatouie baby food will also take back their glass jars for reuse. We are investigating a fresh milk supply in returnable glass bottles.

5. Working with producers

Producers understand the urgency to reduce plastic packaging and it’s been heartening to see many producers talking about their own innovations and focus on reducing plastic. Some customers have challenged us to simply lay down a “no plastic” gauntlet to producers. We’d love to say it’s that easy, but it’s not, especially when transporting fresh food to be delivered in optimal quality. We’re sharing the problem, not pushing it back solely on producers. Our next big focus is removing plastic punnets and removing plastic from baked goods. Some local apples are coming in plastic bags which will be eliminated by the time the new season opens later in the year.

Our largest producers by volume transport deliveries to Farmdrop in reusable boxes and crates meaning waste in our supply chain is vastly reduced.

6. Review, research and refine

As an ongoing longer term project we will continue to work with external packaging consultants alongside leading edge packaging suppliers and universities to source and develop the most sustainable packaging for individual requirements. It’s our aim to put Farmdrop at the front of the plastic packaging challenge. We’ve got some work to do and it won’t all come at once, but please know that we hear your concerns clearly and will continue to improve on our use of plastic.