Artisan baker in Molitg, South of France: Le pain de Molitg

I met an artisan baker while on holiday in the south of France, René Bernolle.  René embodies the true meaning of the word artisan.  The dough is made modestly using minimal equipment and the few varieties of loaves are made by the hands of an unassuming craftsman.  Unlike many pain au levain in France René’s sourdough is made without added commercial yeast.  All of the sourdough is made using a liquid levain formula and the best organic flour René can get his hands on.  He makes some bread for his bakery in Molitg but the majority of the bread is sold at the markets to loyal regular customers.

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It’s easy to miss the bakery, which I did twice, there’s only a plaque of its name on the wall of the building which is not very visible from a car.  The bakery is not open everyday, closed days are market days.

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The first time I visited I bought the loaf below.  Very mild tasting sourdough, something which René tries to achieve for the majority of the local tastebuds, although there are some customers who do ask for a sourer tasting loaf.  A baker can never please every single customer.  The crumb had a good texture, open, light and moist with a good thin crackling crust.

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René has been working as a baker since he was 15 years of age for others and was able to start his own bakery seven years ago in partnership.

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His dough is very sloppy, has the consistency of a 100% hydrated levain when freshly fed.

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As with any bakery without refrigeration the challenge of sticking to the one formula is working against the clock in the heat of the summer and planning the schedule correctly during cold winters.

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The bakery consists of two rooms, one for the prepping and the second room where the wood-fired oven is.

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René has one assistant who speaks very good English.

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René attending the fire of the oven.

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Moving around the loaves during baking.

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Loaves ready for market for the following day.

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When returning to the bakery to take photos I bought different loaves, this one below, a sweet dough with raisins and butter, akin to a sourdough brioche.  What was interesting about this loaf was how the sweetness of the dough brought out the sourness in the levain.

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The loaf below was the most interesting one on different levels and apparently a very popular one amongst his regulars.  A flat low volume looking loaf, perforated with little holes all over its crust.  For me it stood out the most in flavour but also what I found incredibly fascinating was the sign of holes on the surface which signifies a flour that struggles to retain the dough’s gas while proving.

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The characteristics of the crumb is one expected of a low volume, reminded me of bread containing rye or corn, a slight coarseness to the crumb and on the denser side, gorgeous golden colour, flavoursome, lovely character to the crust and very moorish.  I wish I remembered what the flour this was. I would love to have the opportunity to work with this flour and see how it handles, take notes, analyse and feel it through my hands.

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In the process of observing another baker it’s only natural to extract pieces from their methods or their products where it can enhance or sometimes challenge one’s own views, and this loaf has done that very thing.  I have been challenged in my perception of this type of flour.  I have in the past dismissed a poor gas retaining flour but I shan’t so easily do that again in the future because there are incidences like here where it’s worth pursuing with it for the sake of the most important thing; flavour.  For this insight I will always be grateful to René.