Le Pain de Coin, Salies-de-Béarn, France

Some of the wonderful bread on offer at the Pain de Coin

Le Pain de Coin is what happens when an iconoclastic personality takes up the art of bread baking. We first encountered artisan baker Etienne Leroy at the Wednesday farmers market in the little Bearnaise walled town of Navarranx, where a queue of eager shoppers were waiting to snap up the last of his offerings. His most popular bread is the round whole-wheat country loaf known as miches but his market table was also covered with breads made with barley flour, others of whole wheat dotted with raisins or olives or rye flour with walnuts. We secured half of a giant country loaf, the only choice remaining by the time we reached the front of the line, and, immediately tearing off and tasting a hunk, found it excellent.

It turns out that all these lovely breads are made by Etienne in a bakery of his own construction on his farm nestled in the wooded slopes above the town of Salies de Béarn. In his fournil (or baking workshop) he takes an uncompromising approach to baking the best bread he possibly can. His ingredients come largely from the area within 10 minutes of his oven, from farmers working organically to raise ancient varieties of wheat requested by Etienne. The wood that fuels his oven he secures from the forest lands of the farm. His approach to bread baking is decidedly old fashion and artisan: he uses only sour starters, and favors very long, slow fermentation. And he only makes traditional styles of bread, refusing to offer a baguette.

Etienne’s workshop on his farm near Salies de Bearn.

And his approach to commerce is decidedly human centered as well. When we later visited Etienne’s fournil in the morning of one of his baking days, (Etienne alternates baking days with days selling his bread at the local farmers markets and days with his family), we were politely asked to come back later in the day…the bread was underway but would not be ready until about 3pm. When we came back, the workshop was piled high with bread, but was otherwise deserted. Etienne leaves prices on the bread and a jar to put your money in, then trusts the clients to do the right thing while he takes the time to be with his children.

Ashes from the wood fired bread oven were still glowing red in the ash bin when we stopped by to purchase bread

Etienne is also an aficionado of the accordion, and he often brings his along on market days to serenade the crowd waiting to buy his bread. All part of a artisan culture that values the human experience above the commercial.

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