Six nights a week, Alex Gooch leaves his warm bed at midnight and drives down a stony farm track through silent, high-sided lanes to an industrial estate on the edge of Hay-on-Wye. At this time of year, the Welsh Border town is abuzz as 80,000 people descend for its literary festival, yet this corner of “the town of books” is a lonely, shuttered place at night, with just a thin band of light showing between the sliding doors of breeze-block unit.
Over the next eight hours, with the World Service for company, Gooch, 28 makes his slow-fermented loaves – the ryes and sourdoughs, fruit and olive breads, focaccia and ciabatta – all with their own starters; live yeast cultures that bubble and burp away like small volcanoes, scenting the air with beery warmth. The different cultures not only leaven the breads but create their distinct characteristics.
After being mixed, each batch of dough is left to prove, then slapped on to a big oiled oak table, stretched and folded by hand – fix or six times at 20 minute intervals – before being shaped into individual moulds to prove again.