Welcome to the world of bread - French bread anyway - and certainly not our bread. I'm talking about that extraordinary way of the French to use 249 words where we would make do with, er, probably about 8. And that includes the word "sorry" that we are so keen on. It's all about the fuss they take to make a point. It takes longer, and any intense speech is accompanied by much looking around, sighing, pausing for effect, shrugging and making those faces.
So what's the bread thing about? Well, it all began with nothing more sinister than a trip to the Boulangerie in Brest recently. All went well, and in a confident mood and with time to kill, I thought I'd devote a few seconds to reading the wrapper that was covered in words.
Bread is big in France. As any of you who have spent holidays in France may have observed in the natives, it's something that local people will possibly make 3 trips a day to buy. It's a food that is heavily discussed and debated, that changes with the weather (something to do with the humidity apparently) and for which I have seen an actual "bread map" of the country. Oh yes. The humble baguette is only the beginning.
Pardon the slack translation, but the wrapper I was looking at didn't just say the equivalent of "white sliced - medium". For example, it said "Campaillette" - that's the trade name I think - "Great Century. The great name in tradition, refined and rich in tradition, this is THE baguette of the great French tradition prepared with a fully certified flour - red label white". Come off it. And it didn't end there.
Reading on, I saw, "You are going to taste a Campaillette of the great century. This is a great baguette which conforms to the decree of the 13th September 1993 which reflects this Appellation".
Yes, you did read the word "Appellation". Like wine and even cheese, there's quality control here that's heavily regulated. Later in this particular part of the wrapper, there follows another 100 words or so about the fantastic quality of the bread. It ends, "This is why with Campaillette, the great name of tradition, I offer you the best. Signed, your traditional baker". Pompous or what?
That's another point. The baker, like the cake maker, is highly regarded in France. I remember once, a long time ago, it feels like in 1895, I rented a small holiday flat right next to a bakery in France. We were made aware, because of the massive electric mixer that was clearly audible, of the hours such people keep. 4am. Crash - whirrrr, thump....thump.....whirr.....thump etc. etc. The shop opened at about 7am, closed at 11, reopened at 4pm until say 7pm again. That's a 15 hour day without the midday baking. What happened to all those Euro working hours regulations?
My French in-laws have a deep understanding of all the bakeries in Brest, when they open, and who is best for what. One shop NEVER does bread AND cakes well! Oh no, of course not!
Can you imagine that here? "Well Darling, the supermarket is best for sliced white on Sunday, but if it's a weekday then that little place off the High Street will be open. That shuts every alternate Tuesday though, so you'll have to go to the cake shop instead, naturally." Yes, naturally? Sorry, but we don't have this level of interest.
Inspired by this foray into French food wrapping here's another bread wrapper for your collection. Once again the humble baguette, but this time the actual name of the shop is inserted in the generic text. "Proposed today - by YOUR baker Monsieur Colléoc Nicolas, who offers you the finest flour etc. etc."
There then follows 5 points as to how the bread has been made with reference to a brand of flour. There's a definition of the kneading that has occurred, the temperature of the oven and how the "look and feel" of the bread is achieved. It goes on, "if you hit the bread with your fingers, it will sound as if properly cooked."
Try this next time you're shopping.
Then there's a whole load of words about what to do if you want to eat the bread tomorrow. Remember with little or no preservative, French bread doesn't keep at all - hence the regular buying.
"Place the bread in an electric oven for a few minutes and you will have again the true flavour of your bread. You will want to ask for it AGAIN!!" Will I, now? I'll be the judge of that.
Finally, guess what? My sister-in-law asks us to bring her the finest cheap white sliced. "It keeps for ages", she says, "And they make fantastic croque-monsieur!" Aaaahh!!