Thursday, July 09, 2015

The greatest thing since sliced bread is sliced bread (at least in France)

Occasionally, in grammar school, we were issued a sheaf of manila-envelope yellow book covers, printed in red and brown, depicting a loaf of bread and bearing the saying “Bread is the staff of life.” I’m not sure how the nuns got a hold of these. Perhaps they were donated in bulk to the diocese. I don’t remember whether they were sponsored by a local bread company – Town Talk? Cushman? – or by the Bread Bakers Association of America. I do remember that it was not considered cool to have books sporting the motto “Bread is the staff of life.” So we reversed the covers so that they were blank on the outside.

And I do know that I took this motto to heart, and have lived my life as a devoted bread head.

Last week, my bread indulgence was a loaf of country bread from Bricco Panneteria, a wonderful little bakery located in an alley off Hanover Street in Boston’s North End. I didn’t bother to slice it. I just gouged out a hunk whenever I got a bread craving. Yum!

This week, I changed things up. In the kitchen, as I write, there’s the last couple of slices of a loaf of Nashoba Brook Bakery French bread, the best sliced bread to be found in these parts.

And during my trips to Paris, one of my great pleasures has been stopping into a neighborhood boulangerie and picking up a baguette (or the skinny version, the ficelle), ordered in my rudimentary high school French. I would make my purchase, tuck the loaf under my arm, and head out, knowing that no one would ever mistake me for anything other than an American, but pretending I was une Parisienne.

I knew enough to keep my eye out for a bakery that actually made their own bread, and figured that, any time I went to Paris, I’d be able to get my hands on a loaf of pain artisanal.

Then, zut alors, I read in The Economist that what’s really taking off in France is regular old sliced bread. Yes, indeed:

…sales of pre-cut bread, wrapped in cellophane and twist-tied with plastic fasteners, are booming.

The market in packaged bread in France is now worth over €500m ($560m) a year, says Xerfi, a consultancy. In mid-June the country’s biggest industrial bakery opened in Chateauroux, with a surface area equivalent to six soccer pitches. Owned by Barilla, an Italian food group, the bakery will churn out 160m packets of sliced bread a year, almost exclusively for the French market. Last year sales of Harrys, its leading sliced-bread brand, reached 125,000 tonnes, up by 25% on 2007. Jacquet, a rival French baker, offers 18 different varieties of pre-packaged slices. (Source: The Economist)

Round up the usual suspects as to why this is happening. Modern lifestyles, with too little time and too many working women and, thus, no time for women to pick up a baguette each day. And, as everyone knows, a baguette will turn to a rock after 24 hours. So you really do need to get it while it’s hot.

Meanwhile, snacking is gaining popularity, as are brief, sandwich-friendly lunch breaks.

And then there’s marketing. These days, the rage is bread without crusts.

Bread without crusts? Most ultra-commercial sliced breads don’t have much by way of crust to begin with. And real bread without crusts? What’s the point?

Harrys touts sliced bread is branded as “American sandwich,” attempting to convey “modernity and liberty.”

Well, give me liberty and give me modernity, while you’re at it. But please make sure that, next time I’m in France, I’ll be able to get somethng other than sliced bread.

No comments: