Pizzeria hoping to change world’s attitude to wheat

Heirloom wheat being grown in Piddinhoe by Michael Hanson SUS-150729-141704001
Heirloom wheat being grown in Piddinhoe by Michael Hanson SUS-150729-141704001

The Hearth Pizzeria and Bakehouse’s field to fork approach to flour production is at the forefront of a global movement aimed at re-examining the world’s relationship with wheat and grains.

The approach is championed by luminaries such as world-famous baker Chad Robertson, food writer Michael Pollan, upcoming film The Grain Divide and The Real Bread Campaign.

The movement seeks a shift from an industrial approach to grain and flour that focuses on yield, speed and shelf life, while sacrificing health, taste and culture.

It’s an important development given that wheat, usually in the form of bread, is the world’s number one source of food calories, but often calories that are absent of goodness - which is ironic, given that a kernel of wheat is one of the most nutritionally dense food forms.

In line with the movement’s approach, Michael has always made artisan breads, using traditional processes, with quality ingredients – but he has now taken it one step further, by planting 10 acres of world renowned archaeo-botanist John Letts’ heirloom wheat in Piddinghoe, for use at The Hearth in Lewes.

In a reciprocal partnership they borrowed two tons of John’s grain, planted it near Southease, with the support of an enthusiastic local farmer, and will have their first harvest of 20 tons of grain in the autumn. They’ll then give John 10 tons of grain, and will keep the rest for their breads.

It’s an approach that will hopefully inspire other bakers to follow suit – for not only does it diminish food miles, but also allows them to create flour that retains its goodness and flavour, both of which are removed in industrial flour-making.

The Hearth’s owner, Michael Hanson, said: “Over my 40 years as a baker, I’ve seen the rise of soft white breads, with little nutritional value - and an attendant growth in wheat intolerance, even though we’ve been eating wheat for at least 10,000 years.

“We live in a society in which many people have never experienced a tasty, healthy loaf of bread, which is tragic given that it’s traditionally seen as the staff of life.

“Hopefully we can, in our own small way, help change the situation”

The only other pizzeria to take such a field to fork approach is Pepe in Grani - the world’s most famous pizzeria, run by its most famous pizzaiolo, Franco Pepe.

The Hearth is a wood-fired cooking space. Having transformed the old greasy spoon canteen café in Lewes bus station in late 2012, master baker Michael Hanson, built their wood-fired oven and redecorated the interior to create a stylish Osteria, or a hostelry with a hearth - serving traditional Neapolitan pizzas.

For more information about The Hearth, visit www.thehearth.co.

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