The Rise of Real Bread
All you knead is bread, real bread, plus passion and determination. Darrin Romp, a self-taught home cook and baker, set up his microbakery, The Hampshire Real Bread Company, in September 2015, after attending a course run by Bread Angels - a global network of bakers dedicated to helping people learn about good bread.
Darrin explains: “I always had an interest in cooking, particularly baking, but my desire to bake ‘proper’ bread evolved in response to the poor quality of product available locally. I had attended a couple of short baking courses, but it was the Bread Angels course that really propelled things forward. I set up a Facebook page and began selling small quantities from home at weekends. This developed further. I set up a fortnightly stall at Draper’s Yard in Chichester, followed late in 2017 by selling at Hampshire Farmers’ Markets in Emsworth and Petersfield.
“The demand for ‘proper’ bread has certainly increased in the time we have been operating. I think this is in response to the poor fare offered by the large supermarkets where a typical loaf can include a long list of ingredients and additives. We only use flour, water and salt for our sourdoughs. The customer has confidence that the product contains no additives or preservatives and are happy to pay a slight premium for a far better quality product.
“Our best-selling bread is currently our five-seeded sourdough: a white sourdough loaf with pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, linseed and poppy seed inclusions. We also make a range of flavoured sourdoughs as well as ‘traditional’ yeasted loaves, which always sell well.
“Our cinnamon swirls and artisanal doughnuts are consistently in demand and they do tend to draw the customers to the market stalls. Recently, our filled cruffins (a croissant dough shaped in a muffin tin) have become very popular as well. The demand for pastries really took off last year and we hope to produce further varieties and alternative fillings for the doughnuts and cruffins this year.”
When markets closed during the first lockdown, Darrin expanded his services, offering weekend deliveries local to his home in Waterlooville and in Chichester where he had developed a large customer base.
Darrin comments: “This took-off and worked really well. We were even able to raise substantial donations to NHS charities along the way.”
However, it also became a struggle to collate and administer orders while continuing his full-time work for an architectural practice.
“Trying to balance what had become two full-time jobs became very stressful and, like a lot of people, led to a re-evaluation of my life-work balance during lockdown. Therefore, in May 2020, I decided to hand in my notice and concentrate full-time on developing the bakery business.
“Unfortunately, this also coincided with a cancer diagnosis so plans had to be put on hold to allow for treatment, which hopefully I’ll be coming through in the next couple of months. We have been able to keep things ticking over when I’ve been able to bake in between chemotherapy and operations and, luckily, my family have been able to run stalls for me in my absence."
Darrin remains positive: "In many ways, the periods of lockdown have been a time of reflection and re-evaluation. The desire for local food and food provenance has certainly been something that has been resurgent over the past year. Hopefully we’ll be stronger for it in 2021!”
The Real Hampshire Real Bread sells at Hampshire Farmers’ Markets in Emsworth and Petersfield as well as fortnightly Saturdays at Drapers Yard in Chichester. They also supply the Farm Shop at Tuppenny Barn, near Emsworth, as well as fresh baguettes to Café Fresco in Southsea. Doughnuts and pastries are also available at Common Grounds coffee shop in Chichester.