Dawn slowly breaks, allowing sunlight to shimmer through the trees and dance playfully on dampened ground. The clock tower’s chimes fall silent, just as a blackbird’s staccato alarm call heralds the arrival of an early visitor.
I knew where I was heading, all I had to do was follow my nose, for hanging lightly in the still morning air was the smell of baking bread.
“I think I was drunk, probably after drinking too much red wine” says Phil Clayton, on my query why he decided to open a business that necessitates a 3am start. “The lads were actually in at two”.
It can’t have been for a love of sleep!
The answer is obvious when Phil begins to describe what they get up to at the Haxby Bakehouse – three hundred loaves every weekday, one thousand ready for a Saturday morning. This is the work of love, not toil.
It’s at this point that Phil introduced me to Victoria who lives just round the corner, got to know the team, came in and baked and now works with them. After Phil had told her “all these mad stories of the bakers I got to know” Vic went on a bakery tour.
Resultantly she’s trotted the globed to discover bakers in Ireland, Netherlands, Dorset and more, plus Sweden next year too.
These were the veins that ran through my entire time with Phil: education and sharing – I suppose it was the very reason I was there myself. Phil described artisan bakers as a strong self-supporting community and anyone is welcome to join.
Via his Instagram feed he shares ideas, including “Some stupid bread I do for Halloween. Every year I do it there’s now people in America, Australia even, doing the same bread. They saw photos on Instagram and said ‘hey Haxby Bakehouse, thanks for the inspiration’”.
A tip of the hat has to go to a businessman and food producer who’s won numerous awards with the quality of his produce but is more than happy to share knowledge. A degree of selflessness that goes beyond sharing great food.
“Share, otherwise it goes to grave. Pass on as much as you know.”
As soon as the day’s bake is finished it’s time to begin the next batch and some breads take three days to reach the oven. Preferments, proving dough in the fridge and moulding them before they hit the flame.
The slow food movement would love Haxby Bakehouse’s sourdough and baguettes! Certainly after discovering quite what it takes to make a loaf of real bread, I’ll savour each chunk slightly more myself.
What’s more Phil’s breads are free of additives, which is refreshing to hear when the rest of the world wants our food to last ever longer. That doesn’t mean however, Haxby Bakehouse’s breads don’t last – they certainly do.
“All without any of the (expletive) a lot of bakers who claim to be artisan, but can’t be bothered to do it properly, still actually use” Phil points out with a note of pride in his voice.
You’ll find Phil’s fantastic breads in a variety of shops and hotels, not forgetting their own Haxby establishment, as well as food markets at Hovingham and Malton too.
If there’s one word Phil uses more than most during our conversation it’s ‘passion’ and then he described how he saved one his staff from the evil clutches of mass produced bread…
The overriding joy has to be the knowledge that at the centre of this North Yorkshire town is a traditional bakery producing traditional bread. What’s more the local community has savoured and supported the bakery for the past six years.
It’s evident that with some love, care and attention – plus a few sleepless nights – great things are possible.
Walking back through the door and clambering into the car I was fortunate to take the heady smell of the bakery with me. Three freshly baked loaves adorned the passenger seat and I can honestly say I ate nothing else the entire day. Real bread, and boy was it good!