(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Friday, December 10, 2010

back to basics ... take bread, for instance

well, now that I'm coming up on my 3rd winter in France ... and experiencing the solitude and reflection that allows when you live in the French countryside ... here's an example of what I love about the life I've created here that will most likely and, sadly, change.

Bread. Here it is still a simple basic of life. part of the 'quotidien' (routine) that I embrace and others cling to. our daily bread is still a fact for so many.

Imagine a daily routine that includes arising and walking in to town to collect the bread for your breakfast. you do this daily, because the bread you choose to eat is baked daily and without preservatives. likely just 2 or three ingredients. prepared in an old bread oven, brick (four à pain), that is located in a tiny bakery (boulangerie) that has existed for several hundred years ... in the heart of a medieval village that houses a benedictine abbey founded by Charlemagne. Your bread is prepared by the 5th generation of the family that has operated the bakery. While there, you might choose a chocolatine (pain au chocolat) or croissant to accompany your morning coffee. Most french will opt for the simple daily baguette (or two) that will be eaten with butter and confiture at breakfast ... and the rest will be eaten with lunch or dinner.

You buy only what you can eat because by tomorrow, the baguette will be hard and suitable mostly for croutons, tartine or a treat for the ducks. You will rise and go to the bakery in the morning for your fresh baguette.

My village (the one with the benedictine abbey) has three boulangeries for a population of 2,000. Everyone has their favorite ... and some, like me, have divided it further ... whose pain au chocolat do I prefer versus baguette versus pain au campagne. Parisians who visit decry the quality of the baguette for the lighter crusts of the north. When I moved here, the first question demanded of me by my french acquaintances was if I had chosen my bakery yet.

Unfortunately, the behemoth Carrefour bought out and expanded our local supermarket last winter. The 2 'hypermarchés' (markets) in the center of town forego selling any bread save that sliced white stuff the non-french cherish so. Carrefour now hauls in a variety of baguette style breads at a discount to our downtown boulangeries. They of course have preservatives and last longer. they taste like it as well.

This is just another reason I resist giving my business to Carrefour except when absolutely backed into a corner ... when I need a supermarket's wares versus my local boulangerie, butcher and my beloved vendors at the Friday market, I frequent the tinier markets in the center of town.

I prefer to give my support to those who recognize the need to support these small, history sustaining businesses. There's a fragile connection that is worth tending, even at the cost of the few daily centimes more I may be spending to do so. For once the boulangeries and butchers are gone ... the Friday outdoor market, unsupported due to Carrefour's so-called advantage ... well my quotidien will be not much different than it was from whence I came.

funny what a big difference a small thing like bread can make.


Dedene said...

It is sad how out in the country the big stores are killing off the little shops. I resist as much as possible in buying my bread from SuperU or Intermarché. We must continue to support our local commerces.

The Pliers said...

Yep. On all counts...

The boulangerie near my home is a middle-of-the-road bastardization of the two options you outlined. It is small but it is a franchise in a chain and, I am fairly sure, the dough comes to the boulanger pre-formed and simply goes into the oven on his site.

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

Dedene ... I agree. Its sad that life everywhere seems to be more and more about profit.

The Pliers ... wow, how awful. Your town is quite large, it is too bad there aren't more options.

amy said...

I'm looking forward to a chocolatine from my boulanger of choice ( feels like it's been months since we left). But I know exactly what Mme Pliers speaks of - there are many mediocre bakeries near us. More and more often you see the "Banette" sign outside, and these places are to be avoided. Even if they say "artisan boulanger", when it says Banette you are eating industrialized dough.

Hope all is well at The Bohemians!

Jadie said...

aww, are you planning to leave france?

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

why do you say that Jadie?