Pizza made with Roman flour? That’s authentic
You don’t get more authentic than pizza made with flour based on an ancient Roman grain - and served from a horsebox!
In the car park of a recreation centre, a food revolution is happening. Rosy-cheeked lads, fresh from training on the next-door football pitches, are nagging waiting parents. Young couples and groups of friends are making a beeline for the gates. Well-to-do villagers with dogs of various shapes and sizes are wandering in, wine glasses in hand, chatting to neighbours.
And in a horse box across the car park, exceptional pizzas are being cooked to order by a talented team in striped T-shirts, who spin dough theatrically and create incredible flavour combinations.
Baked to bubbling perfection in a monster Blistering wood-fired oven in the back of the trailer, Toad’s Mill Kitchen spelt pizzas are no ordinary pizzas.
Back in 2016, at their home in Callow End, Worcestershire, farmer Toby Whatley and his wife Lydia hatched a plan: to grow spelt - an ancient Roman grain - on the family farm.
They ignored everyone in UK agriculture who said it couldn’t be done and forged ahead, determined to harvest the highest quality spelt from the undulating land that Toby’s relations had farmed for generations.
Their first crop was a roaring success and, having found a traditional watermill in Dorset to traditionally stone-grind the grain, Toad’s Mill flour was born.
Naturally low in gluten and easily digestible, celebrity bakers like Bathbased Richard Bertinet snapped up Wholemeal and Light White to make loaves, brownies, pizzas bases and biscuits.
Home-bakers clamoured to buy beautifully-branded bags - each marked with the name of the field from which the spelt was harvested - in food emporiums from Gloucestershire to London.
But now breaks a new dawn for Toad’s Mill. Under their Toad’s Mill Kitchen brand, Toby and Lydia are bringing the benefits of spelt straight to their consumers with delicious woodfired pizzas made from their own flour.
The couple spent last summer attending pizza-making courses, developing recipes and recruiting staff for their quirky pop-up restaurant venture.
Now, the Toad’s Mill Kitchen trailer, with its distinctive black and copper livery, is being towed behind Lydia’s Land Rover to the Cotswolds’ biggest food festivals, weddings and parties
and villages, for pop-up pizza nights.
One of their regular venues is Eckington Recreation Centre, near Tewkesbury.
Every other Thursday evening, the oven is fired up and dozens of foodies pour in to snap up a piping hot Toad’s Mill pizza before they sell out.
As soon as the trailer doors are opened to reveal blackboards chalked up with the evening’s menu and the names of the food heroes supplying that night’s toppings, pizza fans arrive.
Over the oak bar they watch the chefs preparing bases and toppings in the open kitchen, oven flames flickering in the background.
The aroma is absolutely intoxicating. “We’ve been thrilled by the number of people who come,” says Lydia, chatting to everyone in the queue as she tops Italian chef David’s spelt bases with amazing local ingredients from goat’s cheese to chilli jam and everything in between.
“The first night, we sold out in an hour. We were bowled over by the response.
“Now we’ve got it right and we love seeing all the regulars and so many new faces who’ve heard about us through word-of-mouth.”
For Toby, whose background is in agricultural engineering, it’s a departure from his day job.
He is passionate about the future of British farming.
“In Britain, we grow the best food in the world,” he says, as he slides the latest order into the oven on a huge paddle, checking the temperature to ensure each pizza cooks perfectly.
“We’re lucky enough to have the most incredible producers. The climate here is second to none, as is the land, and we need to be telling people.”
Get him talking, and he has a view on everything farming-related from Brexit to organics, hedgehog habitats to the quality of seed.
“It’s all very well talking about how great British farming is, but we’ve got to put ourselves in front of the consumer if we want to have a farming industry in 10 years time,” he offers.
“We know our spelt is exceptional, that it makes fantastic pizzas, and we’re really happy to be supporting some of the best local producers.”
Each pizza is evocatively named after fields on the farm.
Mapleton is a Margherita with smoky sundried tomatoes; Gatmore is topped with Lightwood goat’s cheese, Chilli Zoo jam and rocket; fiery n’duja sausage and chargrilled red peppers give Pepperbox a spicy kick. Menus are adapted for each event, and there are plenty of veggie and vegan options.
“The feedback is amazing,” says Lydia, as she watches happy customers walk back down the ramp carrying stacks of pizza boxes, ready to share their contents with friends and family. “We had a text from a chap who’d spent years in Italy, and said ours was the best pizza he’d ever tasted. You can’t get better than that. We’re so excited to see what the future holds.”
The future looks busy.
Fans keep up with events on Toad’s Mill lively social media accounts, and bookings are flooding in for weddings, christenings, parties and food festivals, as well as food-pairing events at craft breweries.
It’s something of which the couple are justifiably proud.
“There’s nothing we love better than sharing the story of British farming and amazing produce with our customers,” says Toby.
“We love what we do.”
To book Toad’s Mill Kitchen for your event, visittoadsmill.co.uk
‘We love seeing all the regulars and so many new faces who’ve heard of us through word-of-mouth’
Toby and Lydia Whatley of Toad’s Mill Kitchen