Yes!! “habemus pistorem!” No Papal balcony for the announcement, but in the village the arrival of a new baker is almost as momentous an occasion!
Our previous baker left Arlebosc in the early spring and it felt as though the life had gone out of the village. Although he never really seemed to have his heart in the job and the boulangerie was not exactly buzzing, the fact that we would no longer be able to pick up our bread still warm from the oven, and chat to other villagers as we did so, was a huge blow to everybody. So much so that the Mayor and municipal council put everything into finding a successor, and to this end bought the premises and bread oven (which is installed next door in the “château” with the tower that you see on the photos), greatly reducing the financial burden on anyone wishing to take up the challenge.
The mayors of four neighbouring villages were present, together with representatives from the local region and the Département. They all echoed the speech by the mayor of Arlebosc, Jean-Paul Agier, emphasising the importance of farming, craftsmen, small businesses and artisans to the rural economy. The municipality was offering a free baguette to everyone present, and as Jean-Paul said, we’d all be back the next day, since bread needs to be bought fresh daily.
This really does look like a new beginning. Nathan, our new baker (he’s the one looking a bit shell-shocked to the right of the mayor) is only 19, and has just completed his professional training. The great thing is that he is accompanied by his parents, who will be running the shop and organising distribution of depôts de pain to other villages less fortunate than we are. They are friendly and welcoming and are all obviously prepared to work hard and make a success of the venture.
The boulangerie has been spruced up, reorganised and repainted and Nathan is making rye bread, wholemeal and country loaves as well as the traditional baguettes and flûtes. It’s a tricky business getting the hang of a new bread oven and pleasing all the clients. The locals generally like their bread well browned, but not so crunchy that the denture-wearers can’t get their teeth into it! Nathan is getting a lot of feed back, and the general opinion is that his bread is really good.
He is also turns out excellent croissants and pains au chocolat, no mean feat, since for the time being he has to bake them in the bread oven whereas they should go into a pastry oven, fan assisted and with no steam. All this really pinpoints how crucial a boulangerie is to local life. Each baker is a true artisan: absolutely everything is made fresh on the premises – no question of freezing dough or baking industrially produced items – so inevitably, each baker has his own touch, within the basic sacred parameters, just as everyone’s pastry comes out slightly differently.
So it’s all good news! The Milhots are a local family from Satilleu, about 20 miles away, so they know that the Ardèche, although wonderful in every way, is not all sunshine and holiday makers, and that the winters are much quieter. Best of all, Nathan is also a qualified pâtissier, so once he has got his head round the business, they will be investing in a pastry oven, and cakes will be back on the menu. Hooray!