This charity teaches the ancient art of bread making, but with a difference…
Michael has been unable to eat gluten for 25 years. If his food is accidentally cross-contaminated, he is struck down with the terrible symptoms that anyone with coeliac disease is familiar with.
Twenty five years ago he was living in America, a successful bronze sculptor owning two foundries. He had a fit, healthy lifestyle. But Michael was seriously ill. Losing 5lbs a week, he was wasting away with no idea what was wrong.
“I was nearly a goner” he says.
When the root of the problem became clear, Michael gave up all food containing gluten and returned to full health. He carried on with life, moving to the UK to continue his art. Did he miss wheat-based foods?
“I was the happiest man in the world to find out what the problem was! In this world there’s so much food, it never worried me.”
But there was just one thing he longed for. That really good pizza.
No gluten-free supermarket pizza had ever cut the mustard, but Michael has always been an enterprising sort. He found a gluten-free flour that would make a passable version and built his own pizza oven, inviting friends over for a summer of garden dining.
Little did he know that his search for a simple pizza would lead him to the most incredible discovery.
Curiosity encouraged Michael to learn more about gluten-free flour, and quite by accident he unearthed something amazing. A little known study published in the academic journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology in 2011 showed that, by using an ancient method, the gluten in wheat could be modified so that he was able to digest it with no harmful effects. Subsequent studies had replicated the results. Michael realised there was a way he could eat bread without danger.
Making his own loaf, Michael remembers his trepidation as he took the first bite. The first real bread he had eaten in a quarter of a century.
His wife, Nelleke, usually so protective and watchful of all his food, urged him on, assuring him it would be alright. She’d read the research alongside Michael and was certain that the bread he was about to eat wouldn’t harm him at all.
Michael waited two hours after eating a square inch of his bread. There were no ill effects. He ate a whole slice, and was still fine. He had made a breakthrough.
Michael’s bread is an ancient form of sourdough. Our ancestors knew the secret, making bread this way for thousands of years before the industrial revolution, but in our modern world we have forgotten it. The dough undergoes a process of ‘extended fermentation’ and, after four days, the gluten has been modified. In layman’s terms, the natural organisms that exist on the grain begin the process of digestion.
Michael baked loaf after loaf, perfecting his technique, more than he and Nelleke could possibly eat. Before long they were giving bread away to everyone in their street. Neighbours began knocking on the door, hoping to buy some. Even the postman, who arrived to the smell of baking and bemoaned the fact that he himself couldn’t eat it, took a loaf home and enjoyed it with none of the discomfort he would usually experience.
And it’s not just any bread. It’s bread that you might dream about in farmers’ markets and French bakeries, far removed from the rice-based substitutes of a typical gluten-free offering.
Michael realised this was too good not to share, but making a profit from people’s health did not sit right with him. He formulated a plan to start a charity sharing the technique of 4-day fermented sourdough.
The Gift of Bread was born
Michael and Nelleke have been teaching classes in homes and community halls across the South of England and beyond for several months. No one who has eaten the delicious 4-day fermented sourdough has suffered any problems. And classes aren’t restricted to the South,“We’ll go anywhere!” beams Michael.
Securing business premises in Somerset, they will soon be running two classes simultaneously. The not-for-profit will be funded through sales of high-quality ingredients, including their own sprouted grains, highly nutritious and packed with flavour. With the current trend in gut health across the food scene, they won’t be short of customers.
What would he say to someone who’s unable to eat gluten? “Just try it,” says Michael. The academic research is available on his website, and he intends to send out free samples so that anyone can eat a little at home. Michael’s plans are big and ambitious. But with his enthusiasm, drive and skills, The Gift of Bread is one to watch.
What’s more, Michael plans to build a pizza oven at the headquarters. Soon, anyone who’s passing will be able to try delicious, digestible 4-day fermented sourdough pizza.
The Gift of Bread provides free day classes on how to make 4-day fermented sourdough. The charity is able to fund the free classes through sales of high quality ingredients, such as organic stoneground, unbleached flour and milled sprouted grains. To find out more, or to arrange a class near you, visit their website. To read the research in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, click this link. Please consult a doctor or nutritionist if you have any concerns.