Run by native Italian Val this small artisan bakery produces soft crust, slow fermented authentic Italian breads for farm shops, independent stores and caterers in Surrey and West Sussex.
This bakery has been on my radar since buying their bread at Secretts in Milford a while ago. It’s tasty and light with a dough structure that suggests long fermentation. Kind on the palate (I am not a fan of challenging crusts) it holds its own with just the right bite resistance. This bread provides the perfect vehicle for carrying sandwich fillings and dipping oils in both taste and texture. When owner Valeriana de Berardinis got in touch I jumped at the chance to visit the bakery.
Val is a diminutive figure and I think in her younger days would have rocked an Audrey Hepburn look. Coming from Pescara in the Abruzzo region of Italy she came to study in the UK for 6 months. She met her husband here (also Italian) and they returned to Italy and opened a restaurant together. Their pizzeria was in a small province of Pescara in Civitella Casanova. Opening in 1984 in a restored former railway station, they were successful and long queues were the norm to eat in or take-away. Sadly a move to a larger site, the arrival of their son and a collapsed bridge on their only access road cutting off passing trade meant neither the business nor the marriage survived. However a relationship with long fermentation dough and baking had begun and it’s the core of her business today.
After a move to the UK, various jobs and a computing course Val realized she wanted to be her own boss. With little money but baking expertise she started to make focaccia with spelt flour. Taking samples to health food shops, cafes and bars orders started to trickle in and Val gained a reputation for great bread and Italian biscuits. Too much diversity and a contract with a large mill became too difficult to handle so Val wound down her business took some time out and came back with a better model. Soon after Farretti bakery was launched and this time around she based her recipes on the founding father of modern Italian bread Dr Cavallari. A miller by trade he and his colleagues saw a threat from the French baguette and came up with an Italian competitor (Ciabatta was first seen in British food retailers in 1985). Coming up with a wet dough that when cooked was soft it leant itself well to the growing sandwich market. Val contacted Dr Cavallari and asked him to help her perfect her recipes. He was happy to help and they are now friends and in regular contact.
Housed in an old converted stable in Lodsworth the bakery is overlooked by fields and luscious pastureland. Horses, cows and sheep are in view and it feels a little bit romantic. Step inside the bakery and the contrast is stark, it’s hot because at forty degrees Celsius yeast is at its most productive and this is essential for formation of the trademark bubbly texture. Making the starter dough the previous night (called biga) it’s left to ferment. Using the right flour for this bread style is essential too and selection of Marriages Canadian Manitoba flour is no accident. This wheat is grown for its high protein content, harvested in spring and used exclusively for a long fermentation process.
Arriving in the morning the Val undertakes the second mix adding more flour and yeast this time (common practice in sour dough production) another prove its then time to shape the bread. Plain or black olive Ciabatta (slipper), foccaccia (with added olive oil and rosemary) or rolls. For some customers there are also pizza bases. Val had been hard at work since 4am (it was now 1pm) and as I peruse the shelves loaf after loaf of slipper bread (Ciabatta) are being lined up for baking. On its second prove (the first is for 24 hours) its rising fast creating large gas pockets which create its texture and crust. Val works fast cutting and weighing the dough to ensure consistency. In the front of the bakery Val’s assistant is baking the loaves, cooling and packing.
Val bakes 2 days per week (more for special orders) for her current contracts. She does what a lot of small producers should do; produce a small range of really great products but to the highest standard. Luckily for Val her bread freezes beautifully and as it’s so light also defrosts quickly. Making this perfect for clients who want a plentiful supply of bread and have adequate freezer storage. Typical of sour dough bread this has a 5-6 day shelf life if stored in a cool environment. Packaged simply in hand stamped paper bags they are good to go.
Val launched Farretti Bakery in 2010. It’s a simple business model with a small range of expertly hand-produced bread. Apart from the use of an electric mixer for the biga (sour dough starter) and the final bread dough, weighing, cutting and shaping of the bread and rolls is by hand. Val employs a local lady Elaine to help in the bakery. Here Elaine is in charge of baking each batch of bread to achieve consistency and quality. She also helps to pack and collate orders for the delivery vehicle to dispatch. In fact its Elaine’s brother Steven who arrived at the bakery at 4.30am to start work. Val’s customers love the fact the bread arrives early in time for the start of business.
Val is a tenacious and spirited lady but that aside it’s the bread here that speaks volumes and its no surprise that it’s available in 25 independent shops and eateries in the region; and quite a feat given the size of the bakery. At the end of my visit we sat on a bench outside the bakery and ate pizza for lunch. It was wonderful end to a really inspirational visit and I am now officially their No.1 fan.
For a full list of products and prices you will find a link to the Farretti website and contact details below. Val has capacity for more shops providing they are on or close to her current delivery route.
Phone: 01798 860966