Set in a tiny, pretty rural hamlet in east Dorset, Long Crichel Bakery has been baking organic bread since the start of the millennium. There is cluster of outbuildings and glebe land that surround The Old Rectory of the hamlet, and in an old brick coach house, with very distinct blue wooden doors and window frames, is a tiny bakery that makes delicious, slow, artisanal bread and a kitchen garden that supplies it with seasonal fruit, vegetable and herbs.
You enter into a small shop that is filled with delicious ingredients every well-stocked larder should not be without, as well as fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers from the walled kitchen garden across the road. The prices are written on a chalkboard, and produce is stacked in wooden crates.
Jen Channon is in charge of the shop, and she is very welcoming and enthusiastic. “The bread and cakes just sell themselves. Our customers really love good food, and they drive from even quite a long way away. On a Saturday morning, at around 9.15 a.m. it all suddenly goes mad!”
Scott Richards, the master baker and his Polish colleague, Rob, are skilfully moving risen round Auvergne and raisin and walnut doughs onto a very long wooden palette, and flicking them dextrously into a shimmeringly hot, wood fired oven. The first doughs are pushed all the way to the back, and they are lined up in rows of neat, round, soft mounds until the whole oven is filled. The door is shut and the timer is set.
On the right of the oven there is a smaller oven door, and in here the small logs are inserted and burned. There is a huge pile stacked up next to the oven, and also outside, in the hot sun and fresh air.
The Head Chef, Paddy Davy, has finished his shift. He is in charge of all the patisserie for the Long Crichel Bakery shop and café in Wimborne, as well as the shop here. I have been to the Wimborne café, in Cook Street, and it is delightful, a real community hub.
He enthuses about the kitchen garden, the larder engine room for the recipes, and so I wander across to take some photographs, before the crowds start arriving.
Run by Anni Sax along biodynamic, organic principles, the kitchen garden is a half acre working, functional, productive space. As far as the eye can see fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs grow in profusion towards the sun, all hemmed in at the sides by a tall cob wall and small wooden gardeners’ sheds trimmed in bunting. Cornflowers, cosmos, poppies, calendula and daisies are the companion plants to salads, cabbages, artichokes, peas and broad beans. Everywhere the eye rests there is food. The distance from soil to shop is about ten metres, blackbirds and chaffinches singing in the hedges in between and wild bees darting industriously across your footpath.
Back in the shop Jen is filling the shelves with warm Pain de Campagne, white bloomer bread, olive and rosemary loaves, sourdoughs, brioche loaves and rye breads. There are slices of tomato pizza, sausage rolls, muffins, almond croissants, strawberry tarts and lemon cakes.
The two bakers are now taking more loaves out of the oven, and the tall, blue proving cupboard is empty. Its doors are closed and it is wheeled back into the main part of the kitchen. In, out, push, pull: Robs’s arms work like pistons flicking the loaves two at a time out of the oven and into the waiting carrier tray.
The loaves are crisp, golden brown and quite heavy. Jen picks one up in her hands, and runs to the counter, her mouth open with the pain from the heat. They are still hot when the customers buy them, wrapped in white tissue paper.
If you crick your neck and look inside the narrow bowels of the empty oven you can see a whole stratum of ash clinging to the brick ceiling. This oven was put in by Paul Merry of Panary, a famous Dorset baker and oven installer. There is flour on the floor, ash in the air and a very quiet sense of purpose and focus. The last few minutes of baking are a relief to one and all, I am sure.
The owner of the business, Jamie Campbell, who, along with his wife Rose, still manages the day to day running of the business, tells me that Long Crichel Bakery also sells its breads through Abel and Cole, other local village stores and four farmers’ markets: Winchester, Petersfield, Salisbury and Shaftsbury. Rose and Jamie are architects by profession, and juggle both sides of their business life, as well as raising a young son.
James tells me how he has witnessed a real reawakening in people’s knowledge base with regards to good, artisanal bread and also a new interest in old techniques.
“We are living through very interesting times” he tells me. “We see that people have a new awareness for bread and its taste. When we first started, eleven years ago, we made a lot of white bread and wholemeal bread. But now more and more people are asking for sourdoughs. The concept of slow bread has really taken off, and the ranges have widened, so there is a much greater choice.”
We chat about Italian bread, which, in some regions, is made with no salt, or very little salt. As a Lombard, I am the first to admit that the quality of Italian bread can vary enormously. We also talked about our love for The Art of Eating, the American food magazine.
On the baking front Jamie has been influenced by the work of Jacques Mahou, a baker from Tours, Manfred Enoksson, a German baker from Sweden and Poilane. He tells me that, as Long Crichel is a working bakery, with four bakers working shifts across six days of the week, it has been difficult for them to carry out many baking courses, but they have certainly been active in teaching local children. They would certainly like to do more baking courses in the future, maybe on Saturdays, as education is very important in the campaign to raise awareness and appreciation for real bread.
Jen is still busy in the shop, and as the loaves are moved from the oven to the shop shelves, customers walk in, buy them and carry them out. “People come to stock their freezer” she says, and I start thinking about what I am going to buy.
The air around the counter is filled with the sweet smell of vanilla, warm sugar and caramelised tomatoes from the pizza slices. It is difficult to concentrate in this shop: greed overcomes me and my mind wanders from Ortiz tuna, to salty anchovies, apple juice, farmhouse butter and organic flour sacks from Cann Mill.
I buy several loaves, as I am off to interview the Italian cookery writer Anna del Conte, who lives not very far from here, and I want to surprise her when I meet her. “They’re from Long Crichel Bakery” I say as I hand them over at her doorstep. “Oh, si, li conosco, sono cosi bravi!” she exclaims. (Oh yes, I know them, they are so good!). Two Lombards, far away from the homeland, appreciating delicious bread from a small, rural Dorset bakery. There is nothing like good bread to unite us all, whoever we are, wherever fate has brought us.