Far eastern people eat rice, Africans millet, South- and Central American Indians corn, northern Europeans potato, and Mediterranean bread.
French, Italian and Spanish bakers have been producing and continue to produce excellent artisanal breads, although industrial bread has been invading their territory of late.
Undeterred bakers continue their struggle to convince consumers that tasty bread has its place not only in gastronomy, but also in everyday life, with every meal.
French have been masters of the art for centuries, although Italians claim otherwise.
French artisanal bread against considerable odds is enjoying a quiet renaissance, so much so that there is at least one restaurant in Toronto that imports fresh bread from Poilane in Paris every second day. The sandwich they offer is delicious.
Boulanger de Monge and Maison Kayser are considered to be some of the best according to professor Kaplan, of Cornell University in New York state, and Marie-Christine, his French wife, after visiting 600 bakeries and evaluating their breads.
The good professor evaluates bread much like wine writers and connoisseurs evaluate wine.
The criteria are sight, smell, sound, texture and taste.
Bread must have an appealing crust and aroma. The taste and texture depend on the flour, water, and yeast, handling, and baking.
Warm bread cannot be evaluated properly and organoleptically. Eating warm doughy bread hampers your appetite and some clever restaurateurs make guests fee well sated by serving them loaves of warm bread and butter.
Nutritionally, symbolically, and politically, bread played a significant role in pre-revolutionary France, and in the 18th century it was the main sustenance of most French people.
Many historians ascribe the July 4, 1789 Revolution in France – the storming of the Bastille, the famous prison to the high price of bread. This may or may not be totally accurate, but this cause-and-effect is partially true.
The transition from sourdough bread making the yeast –based conversion to bread (a.k.a panificatoin) in the 1920’s was one of the most important factors in quality decline. The two World wars did not help matters either.
In 1960’s mechanization of bread baking produced bumper batches of poor quality bread. Then in 1970’s huge supply companies got into the act of partially baking baguettes and freezing them. All one had to do was to re-thermalize the product. It was acceptable to most consumers deprived of time for shopping, but more importantly, only a few people knew how to evaluate quality.
In France, millers started to note alarmingly the precipitous fall of bread consumption, and decided to encourage young enthusiastic people to get into the bread baking business.
Finally in 1980’s things started to turn around, most notably by Lionel Poilane, who reconciled long sourdough fermentation, and baking in wood-fired ovens.
His breads acquired fame not only in Paris, but also throughout the country, and even across the Atlantic Ocean.
There are many young bakers in and around Paris who care about quality and turn out excellent breads. Thousands of Parisians think nothing of driving across the city to buy their favourite bread from their favourite baker. It is a personal relationship and almost always cherished by both the producer and consumer.
In Toronto you cannot buy French bread, but you can taste and purchase excellent quality bread from Thuet Gastronomy at 692 King Street west. Thuet, an accomplished chef, has introduced several fine French bread recipes and people who care about the quality of bread they eat make weekly pilgrimages to his shop.