“Artisan bakers need less to be celebrated than to be esteemed”


VSis the bread festival (from May 13 to 21), the annual apotheosis of bakers. In 1996, I participated in the creation of this celebration which aimed to highlight the uniqueness of the artisan baker and, above all, To cheer him up. He really needed it. For decades, he has suffered blows and he has made mistakes, the two sometimes intertwining under the sign of his ambivalence towards modernity. For a century, the craftsman has been tossed between contradictory incentives.

At the end of the Great War, faced with the difficulty encountered by many bakers in properly mastering sourdough bread-making and the severe constraints of this method, professional managers inaugurated the modern era: “live” work on yeast, less painful, faster, better able to produce new breads – like the baguette requested hot and crackling several times a day. But the genie came out of the bottle. Modernity is a certain rhythm, both in the bakery (where we are often paid by the piece) and in the factory: we go too fast, we add too much yeast, we radically shorten the time of the first fermentation , great aromatic and gustatory lever, we add too much salt (to compensate for the lack of taste), we use additives and correctors such as ascorbic acid to allow the dough to tolerate the ravages of breadmaking.

Despite a few alerts in the 1930s, such as the convening of a National Congress for Good Bread in 1938, the calamitous implications of the continuous decline in consumption of bread, beyond the normal adjustment imposed by technological and social “progress”. Violent controversies against white bread, supposed to deprive the consumer of its nutritional quintessence, even to undermine the “French breed”further weaken the baker.

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The Second World War turned everything upside down: coarse, flat, dark-colored bread, mixed with ersatz, often smelly. The French want white – a historic popular ambition, this represents purity and social ascent – but, faced with a shortage of grain, which has persisted for almost a decade, the country is starving and the State imposes a bread hardly more appetizing than that of the Occupation.

Many consumers expressed doubts about the quality of the bread: the drama of Pont-Saint-Esprit (Gard), in 1951, where contaminated bread was a vector of death (five to seven people) and madness (about forty victims ), does not reassure the public. Towards the end of the 1950s, a new technique, intensified kneading, enabled craftsmen to offer hyper-white and voluminous bread. Sales increase, but only fleetingly; experts declare this bread beautiful, but tasteless, without aroma and taste.

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