You would have thought that nearly 2,000 years of religious associations and Christian communions, hammering home the link between bread and wine in the Western consciousness, would have been enough to etch that perfectly simple pairing onto people’s minds.
Indeed, wholesale bakery suppliers have a lot to gain commercially by supplying restaurants and hotels, but few are playing up the bread-booze link.
Similarly, there is the potential to offer wine and bread tastings in craft bakeries to inspire customers into buying speciality breads through shelf signage, or even cross-merchandising of wines and speciality breads in the supermarkets. So why is cheese - a frankly stinky substance that can easily overpower a wine’s finer points - and not bread seen as the ideal match for a glass of plonk?
"As an industry, we haven’t done a very good job of highlighting the fact that bread has as rich a history as wine," says Julie Currid, marketing coordinator for Puratos in Ireland. The firm is promoting the complementary link between bread and wine with its liquid and powder Sapore sourdoughs, which is a range of isolated yeast strains of the different sourdoughs from around the world and is added at the mixing stage. "I think there are lots of possibilities in putting bread and wine together. If you’re serving a gourmet meal, you should be offering something a little bit different than sliced bread."
There are obvious parallels in the origins of wine and bread. Both are thought to have started out in Egypt and have passed through colonisation, slavery and commercialisation. The flavour development of sourdoughs and wine is also similar, with local differences in wheat varieties for bread, and grape varieties for wine dependent on soil and climate conditions. Sourdoughs and wines are different depending on where they come from and time also plays a part - fermentation time with bread and the ageing of wine.
Ending the perception that bread is a commodity or add-on, making it integral to the meal experience, begins with teaching people to recognise the nuances of taste in bread as they would a wine before serving; for example, blowing on and squeezing the bread releases stronger aromas. "When you taste bread, you’re looking at the colour of the crust and the structure of the crumb. Similarly, you look at the colour of the wine and the rim colour," says Currid.
One product in the Sapore range is a liquid San Francisco sourdough, Fidelio, which offers a simplified production process for large and small-scale production alike, says Puratos. Its nose is a typically strong acetic with fruity esters (flowers) produced by the sanfranciscensis bacterium, present in a San Francisco sourdough; the taste has a sharp acidity and is prickly on the tongue.
At least one bakery has made the connection, however. "Bread and wine do pair well together," says Justin Piers Gellatly, occupying the dual role of head baker and head pastry chef at London’s St John Bread & Wine, a bakery-cum-restaurant, which sells just that. "But we don’t pair things with the bread or the wine as such. Our approach is to use the bread as the utensil - the knife and fork, if you like - with things like pâtés. We do get through a lot of bread."
St John Bread & Wine opened opposite Spitalfields Market, in ultra-hip Shoreditch, three-and-a-half years ago. Originally set up as a wholesale bakery with a restaurant attached, as well as supplying restaurants and retailers including Harvey Nichols, it switched the emphasis more into a restaurant with a bakery. It now produces bread for around a dozen restaurants locally, as well as sister restaurant, St John, based in Smithfields, which has a counter selling bread, cakes, granolas, brownies and its signature product, Eccles cakes.
"We basically ran out of room," explains Gellatly. "We had no room to expand; we had no oven space, and no storage. And the wholesale side fell flat. It ended up being impossible for us to run the bakery that way."
St John Bread & Wine does off-sales, whereby visitors can take a loaf of bread or a bottle of wine away. "People come in for dinner but they all buy a loaf of bread. We also have regulars who come in during the morning to buy their loaf. It’s a good way of selling bread. But it can get a bit tricky at the end of the evening if you’ve got any bread left over; it usually goes to waste. But on the whole, the concept seems to be working."
St John Bread & Wine has an à la carte menu. This begins with breakfast at 9am, with bacon sandwiches, pikelets and jam, soft roes on toast, toast and honey, and poached fruit, yoghurt and brioches and then runs from 11am through to the lunchtime, offering seed cake and Madeira, chocolate brownies and Eccles cakes. For lunch, customers are presented with a selection of breads at the start of their meal, and are given the opportunity to buy a loaf afterwards. A novel selection of puddings includes parsnip cake, Clementine syrup cake and spiced clementines, and a ginger loaf with butterscotch sauce.
On the breads side the company makes a white and a brown sourdough, a light rye bread, a raisin loaf, yeast-raised white and brown loaves, poppy seed, date and walnut loaves and soda bread. On Sunday, it makes doughnuts. Other ad hoc products include custard, chocolate and lemon tarts, meringues, Victoria sandwiches and ginger cakes.
Many restaurants are neglecting the quality of their bakery offer simply due to inadequate supply, he believes. "It is very difficult to keep the quality up and a lot of shortcuts are taken. It’s the nature of wholesale.
We are lucky in having our own bakery, because we’ve never had to buy our bread elsewhere. But my wife, a chef, has all sorts of problems trying to find good bread suppliers and consistently good quality."