If there is one element of the national genius that still makes French hearts beat faster, it is eating and drinking, and these activities have rarely been better served than today. With, however, one exception--bread. The decline of French bread over the past few decades is one of the saddest aspects of the ransom paid to progress, and much of the blame must simply go to good old greed. A generous-looking loaf that weighs nothing, made from cheaper grades of flour and inflated like the Michelin man, uses up less flour and therefore increases the baker's profit margin.
Very early in his career, Lionel Poilane, the owner of the world-famous Poilane bakery on Rue du Cherche-Midi in Paris, discovered that there was plenty of profit in doing exactly the opposite of his confreres. Poilane's wonderful loaves are made from the finest of whole-grain, stone-milled wheat flours, seasoned with lovely light-gray crystals of pure sea salt, raised with natural yeasts and slipped in and out of brick ovens by real bakers wielding real wooden spatulas. Their tan, alveolate slices exude an aroma and taste that is positively fruity.
These days, long lines snake from his shop and loaves regularly Boeing their way to Berlin, Chicago and Tokyo, whence they are distributed to such needy souls as Lauren Bacall and Robert De Niro. Clearly Poilane has generated a global appetite for his handmade, old-style, real French bread, and it's hello sourdough, bye-bye baguette, vive Poilane!