Man cannot live on bread alone. He needs music, poetry, flowers and long walks with the dogs too.
Paul Hildyard spends large parts of each day in his Wild Bread Co bakery, hand building beautiful loaves. The rest of the time he relishes life in the Midlands – making the most of wonderful places to ride his bike, superb spots to sip coffee, gardens to read in and friends who love to share lunch. Oh, there is sewing too. “My life is BS,” he laughs, “baking and sewing”. He whips up useful bags, pure cotton shirts and colourful trousers whenever the mood takes him. Clearly a very creative spirit who, now that he has turned his hand to bread making, has attracted a loyal following.
Before spending days up to his elbows in stoneground flour, Paul was an uber efficient corporate being, with a floral bent – working for Keith Kirsten’s Nurseries, UKZN Horticulture Dept and BIDvest Execuflora. “My background in business means I understand the importance of being reliable, consistent and providing the best bread I can bake to my customers every day.” While Paul has only been baking professionally for the past few years, he and his partner Glenn have always been foodies and played around with making croissants or fiddled with recipes. Glenn is particularly good at marmalade – think just-picked Rex Union oranges, sliced with precision, with just the right amount of sugar…
A few years ago, friend Graeme Taute, who started the Wild Bread Co decided to move onto other things and Paul grabbed the opportunity to buy his business. “During my two months of intensive training with Graeme, he shared everything he knew about bread, which was a lot! Particularly that real bread is a living thing, affected by the ‘terroir’ – the area and climate where it is fermented and baked, the unique micro-organisms found in the region, and even on the baker’s hands. All these affect the outcome – particularly as the bread making process takes three days from start to complete loaf. Just as a sheet of metal can make many different cars, so a sack of flour can make many different loaves. Even the shape affects the flavour.”
Paul uses Champagne Valley Stoneground flour. Not only is this the most locally produced flour available, the farmer practices no-till which does little to disturb the soil, avoids pesticides and then stone grinds the old-fashioned way so that all the nutrients remain in the flour. Commercial flours are often compromised from the field. Once the mill gets hold of it, they virtually kill it and then get other companies to supply the ingredients that have been destroyed (like the germ and enzymes ) and add them back in the form of vitamins. Common supermarket breads made with this flour are proved quickly, have dozens of additives to give them soft texture and preservatives to improve shelf life. No wonder many people feel unwell after eating bread.
“Our bread is four ingredients – flour, water, salt and the levian ‘mother’ and the fifth, most important ingredient, is time. Commercial bakeries routinely leave this one out,” Paul says passionately. “With my hands-on method, I am able to judge the hydration of the flour and adjust accordingly. Weather affects the moisture content and proving times.” So, on his spread sheet of the days’ orders, Paul always notes the predicted weather and temperature at the top. “In summer I am up at three am to avoid the worst heat, while some days in winter I have to switch the ovens on early to warm up the bakery before we start.”
With Classic FM playing in the background, Paul and his able assistant Sandile Buthelezi, work with precision and care. Then in the afternoon, it is very likely that someone doing the school run will hoot at the gate and grab a fresh loaf on their way home. If Paul is out doing deliveries, the customer will note what they have taken on a slip of paper and pop into the honesty box before heading home to feed their family.
Many people who had long since given up eating bread due to the discomfort, heartburn and bloating that commercial bread has become synonymous with, are now regular customers. “I have customers in tears telling me that they have not eaten bread in a decade or more and are now thrilled to consume Wild Bread regularly.” As everyone knows, the fragrance of fresh bread makes even the toughest low-carb diet practitioner salivate. With real slow fermented sourdough there is none of that “no maagies vol, oogies toe” energy slump. Paul’s ‘mother’ sourdough, which is 15 years old, is lovingly fed three times a week – it grows slowly. A commercial loaf may take 90 minutes from start to finish – Wild Bread loaves take three days.
“Our best food comes from fermentation. Since the dawn of mankind, humans have let the natural enzymes do the work of breaking down complex carbs to yield higher nutrition. Like tea, beer, wine, yoghurt, pickles, whiskey – some of my favourite things,” smiles Paul, who also makes kombucha regularly and will be offering his Rooibos and Ginger flavoured kombucha to customers soon.
Despite the busyness of a bakery morning, there are spaces in the process when Paul and Glenn sit down for breakfast. Two slices of sourdough, toasted back to back in one slot of the toaster (crispy on one side, soft on the other), slathered with real butter, or Paul’s favourite – olive oil and a dribble of good soy sauce – are served with freshly brewed tea, and a perfectly poached free range egg.
How fortunate we are that Paul is determined to honour the instinctive, living process of bread making – to allow nature time to let the enzymes and bacteria to extract the maximum nutrition from the grain. By doing so he bakes the best sourdough bread he possibly can each and every week. Our health and our taste buds are immensely grateful.
Paul proudly supplies Dovehouse, il Postino, Eat@Andrew’s, The Barn Owl, La Popote, Wiessenhof, The Treatery, Silver Hills Health Resort, and has a regular stall at the Karkloof Farmers Market. He will even courier bread if are further afield and cannot live without it!
Keen to try your hand at breadmaking? Paul hosts courses in his bakery for small groups interested in learning more about real sough dough bread – they are fun, informative, inspiring and delicious. Contact him on WhatsApp 082 665 4369 or email firstname.lastname@example.org