There are some things in France that must never, never change. One of these is that nearly every village, town and City of France has an abundance of good boulangeries (bakeries) and patisseries. All specialising in that wonderful french staple; bread (le pain) which comes in many shapes and sizes and flavours. Baked fresh several times a day on the premises. Bread to the French is as Rice is to the Chinese – is what my local boulanger told me.
Recently I dropped in on Patrick Camp at La Boulangerie du Centre in Viry in the Haute Savoie; the closest village to my home and the boulangerie where I buy my bread and patisserie. A normal day for Patrick begins at 4am when he starts baking the baguette and pain that have been proving over night in the huge fridges all along one wall of the kitchen. He has a clockwork routine working, making dough, resting, proving, resting, shaping…and then baking. Patrick is a Savoyard and has been a boulanger all his life, he did his apprentisage in Collonges-sous-Saleve and then moved to La Boulangerie du Centre in 2004 where he worked as the boulanger under a patron. Two years ago he bought the boulangerie and is now The Patron/Boulanger.
Watching him work was fascinating and the love and passion that goes into his baking is so clear. In fact when we discussed the ingredients of his bread, he said the first and most important ingredient is love ‘amour’ – he actually said “je fais avec beaucoup d’amour” He always has a smile on his face and a cheery welcome for all of his customers (considering the hugely long hours he works – that is impressive!). When I asked him the favourite thing about his work, he said interacting with all of his customers, which he does so well. His work of providing his customers with their most important traditional daily bread seems more a vocation to him. He told me that some of his customers come to the bakery 3 times a day and that they supply most of the local restaurants with bread. At weekends there is regularly a queue outside the bakery, but no one minds waiting for breads and pastries this good!
He uses 8 different types of flour, all artisan and locally milled by Minoterie Metral of St. Pierre de Faucigny and grown from wheat grown in the Haute Savoie. I asked him to count how many different styles of breads he bakes, I’m not sure if I got them all but I remembered at least 8, from the baguette, pain, ficelle – very small baguette, pain d’epi which is shaped like a single head of wheat, marguerite – the round flower shaped loaf, boule, pavé – a square loaf. These are named mainly because of their shapes and some of them are a mixture of flours. The main flour he uses is a rustique mixture of wheat (blé) with a small amount of rye (siegle) mixed in. He also proudly showed me the inside of a new loaf he is making using a stoneground flour. Then there are a few flavoured breads including fig, walnut, olive and lardon.
As well as the breads there are the ever popular breakfast pastries including croissant, pain au raisin, pain au chocolat, torsades and brioche all beautifully lined up in the morning just begging to be eaten. And it seems at the weekends the french are more partial to the speciality breads like Brioche de Saint Genix, Tarte au Sucre and the Couronne which he makes sure he has baked a plentiful stock of for ‘le weekend’
Patrick has 2 Patissiers working every morning and one apprentice, producing the beautiful cakes, gâteaux and tarts and individual desserts, including tarte au citron, au pomme, fraise and various other fruit and chocolate combinations. Cakes and desserts can also be made to order.
During the year there are various bread and baking festivals along with other festivals that require a specific type of bread. For example we’ve just celebrated Mardi Gras, coming up to Lent and The Bugnes are traditionally eaten at this time. The first week of January for Epiphany is The Galette de Rois The Tarte aux Fraises is an official mark of Easter (Paques) In May the Fête du Pain is celebrated countrywide and marked with the gâteau St. Honoré – because Saint Honoré is the patron saint of bakers. Then there is the Fete du Gout which is a week in November, another countrywide celebration, this time concentrated on educating children into the delights of french cuisine. Patrick invites the local school children into his kitchen to make sables a shortbread style biscuit, which they take home to share with their families.
La Boulangerie du Centre, Viry, Haute Savoie is open from 6:00am – 12:30
and 14:30 – 19:30 Tuesday to Saturday and from 6am – 12:30 on Sunday.
All photos ©Copyright Caro Blackwell