£21 loaf strictly for the up­per crust?

Daily Mail - - sandra Parsons - Paul Har­ris re­ports

ONE key in­gre­di­ent makes Tom Her­bert’s bread so ex­clu­sive – at £21 a loaf, you need plenty of dough to af­ford it.

But a grow­ing re­volt against mass-pro­duced su­per­mar­ket fare is mak­ing this lov­ingly baked prod­uct a favourite of the dis­cern­ing wal­let. Prob­a­bly the best thing since sliced bread, in fact.

The Shep­herd’s Loaf – by far the most ex­pen­sive in Bri­tain – takes two days to make and can last up to two weeks.

It might look a lit­tle like a gi­ant cow-pat and re­quire both hands to lift – but when the baker de­scribes it as ‘a work of art’, you can as­sume it’s not your av­er­age split tin.

Yes­ter­day I sam­pled the bread that counts ac­tress Liz Hurley, foot­baller Tony Adams and artist Damien Hirst among its fans. To say it is a loaf fit for a king is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion.

Glouces­ter­shire-based Hobbs House Bak­ery, which makes the loaf from a recipe that has been in the fam­ily for more than half a cen­tury – delivers a weekly or­der to Prince Charles’s High­grove es­tate.

But the story of the Shep­herd’s Loaf turns the clock back much fur­ther than the time when the first of five gen­er­a­tions of Her­berts be­gan to bake com­mer­cially.

The flour is made from lo­cally grown or­ganic spelt. The sea salt used has been har­vested in the far west of Corn­wall since the Iron Age.

Even the sour­dough mix­ture that makes the bread rise has been glub-glub­bing away in a 100-gal­lon tank for the past 55 years.

‘We call it The Mon­ster,’ said Tom Her­bert, 33. ‘It’s the mother of all breads be­cause it gives life to our loaves. We feed it ev­ery day with flour and wa­ter to re­place the sour­dough that we take out.’ That process has been go­ing on con­tin­u­ously since just af­ter the war.

The Shep­herd, as it is known, was cre­ated in what Mr Her­bert de­scribes as ‘the search for the per­fect loaf’. It is ten inches in di­am­e­ter, some four inches tall and weighs in at two ki­los. Its crust is marked with the im­age of a shep­herd’s crook. At £21, it works out at £1 a slice – which leaves me won­der­ing if the crook has a dou­ble mean­ing.

‘I know it may seem hor­rif­i­cally ex­pen­sive,’ Mr Her­bert ad­mits. ‘But when you taste it, you re­ally know the dif­fer­ence.’

The price in­cludes next-day de­liv­ery for on­line cus­tomers and, since its launch in Oc­to­ber, the Shep­herd has been dis­ap­pear­ing at the rate of around 100 a week. Canny West Coun­try folk can get it di­rect from the fam­ily’s four bak­ery out­lets in Glouces­ter­shire for ‘just’ £12.

So what’s it like? The next batch is not due in the oven for sev­eral hours af­ter I ar­rive at the Her­berts’ shop in Nailsworth – but Tom of­fers me one that’s six days old. Not many bak­ers would vol­un­teer that fact, but he in­sists it’s tastier for ma­tur­ing.

The crust is a thing of beauty – dark brown, nutty and slightly salty. In­side, the bread is quite dense, and far less sweet than a su­per­mar­ket loaf. I can’t deny it’s re­ally nice bread. But £21?

‘I’ve used the best pos­si­ble in­gre­di­ents so they’re also the most ex­pen­sive,’ he says. ‘But I don’t be­lieve I could make it cheaper with­out com­pro­mis­ing the process or the qual­ity.

‘We’re find­ing the pub­lic want more from their bread, and they want it made by real bak­ers, not just by some­one in a su­per­mar­ket heat­ing up hor­ri­ble un­fer­mented mix­ture in a so-called in-store bak­ery.

‘You shouldn’t even be al­lowed to call that stuff bread. This is bread,’ he says, and gen­tly pats the Shep­herd like a small pet.

A dust­ing of flour comes off on his hand. Prob­a­bly about 20 pence worth, I reckon.

Ris­ing star: Baker Tom Her­bert with a ‘Shep­herd’

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