It seems an unlikely place to start a revolution: a tiny island off the coast of far west Cork, inhabited by less than 30 people and without even pub to call its own. And yet Heir Island is now home to the Firehouse Bakery and Bread School, headquarters of Patrick Ryan’s self-styled Bread Revolution, one which you can read all about in his book of the same name, or, better still, which you can discover for yourself by making the trip to West Cork and taking one of Patrick’s bread-making courses. Lucky me, then, to be invited to do exactly that last weekend, and what a joy it was.
View from Heir Island: the calm before cooking up a storm
To be fair, it’s not the first time that brioche has been called cake.
That famous quip attributed to the ill-fated Marie Antoinette, “qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” is most often translated to great dramatic effect as “let them eat cake.”
Brioche - is it bread or is it cake?
(image from Flickr member Arnold Inuyaki licensed under Creative Commons)
It seems that the Revenue Commissioners, in what they are calling a ‘clarification’ of the current VAT rules, have decided that brioche might as well be cake, because it will now attract VAT, as cakes do, at 13.5%, whereas previously it would have been classified along with bread, which escapes the VAT net. And it’s not just brioche: other items, such as croissants, bagels and even garlic bread are no longer sufficiently bread-like to qualify for zero VAT status. Really.
This came to my attention as I was leaving the hallowed halls of Trinity College, which had been the venue for the Bord Bia Irish Food & Drink Industry Awards last week. I happened upon Suzanne Campbell, who was discussing the issue and how it would hit small bakery businesses, with William Despard of the Bretzel Bakery (he who had made such an impression at the recent Savour Kilkenny Foodcamp). William was understandably exercised about the VAT hike.