Thursday, November 08, 2007
Now, that's an oven. This is the inside of my favorite "boulangerie," Fervere. I use the French term as this is not a bakery as well. Bakeries we are familiar with here — other than Krispy Kreme which is more of a factory-type establishment — do desserts and pastries. In France, that would be a patisserie. Two different kinds of places.
All they do here is bread. The finest bread around.
The space itself is sparse, exposed brick walls, bare floor and a couple shelves for the finished loaves, a small work area for mixing. And this oven. It is custom built to be identical to the ancient communal ovens in Europe. The fire is fed at night, and the breads are baked using the residual heat. Each day the bakers have to calculate baking times and temperatures for each of the loaves and the timing for everything.
The flour is custom-milled from local organic grains. Even the yeast was cultured from the local air to impart a unique flavor to the breads, just as identifiable as the tang of real San Francisco sourdough. The shop is open just a few hours a day until sellout, and that happens fast. If you know the different loaves made each day, you can call ahead and reserve one.
When you ask the bakers about the process, they can talk at length about each facet of bread making. Each is clearly a perfectionist. You walk into this place, and you might as well be stepping into 200 years or more past. The smell of fresh baked loaves is heavy in the air. It's so good, you want to shake your fist in the air, curse Dr. Atkins and do a happy carb dance all at once.
This is where we will find the bread for our Thanksgiving table. This is where I go to find a link to real food. It's the kind of place we should all seek out in our community and support. If we don't, it will be too easy to lose in the wake of "progress." The same progress that has led our country to a really screwed up food system.
Indeed, the difference between bread and the flavorless, pre-sliced, HFCS-laden mush on grocery shelves is one of the most profound illustrations of just how far off track we've gone with our food. How did we get here? Why?
I don't know. But pass the butter.