Nov 10, 2015

Hundred Year Old Bread: Bonette

I know, you're waiting to hear about where we've moved in Paris (and while we're at it: I know the formatting is off here, but I still barely have internet, so we'll all just have to suffer through it), but for now, you're getting a story about French bread. Traditional French bread. Really traditional French bread. Scattered throughout the countryside of France, you'll find a handful of truly old-style bread bakeries, with wooden ovens and a hundred years of soot on the walls. So I guess it's not the bread that's 100 years old (thank goodness, or it'd be mighty stale) but rather the method. 

This particular bakery, Four des Bellarots (Bellarots Oven), is located in a small village in the Parc National de Mercantour, in southeastern France. It's a tiny affair, and barely fits all the bread loaves, let alone the people that want to buy them the once or twice per year that the oven is fired up for baking. The bakery was created in 1901 by the 14 families who lived in the hamlet of Bellarots, and judging from the looks of it, there aren't that many more families there now.

Everything is done by hand, as it would have been done in 1901 -- kneading, stoking the fire, weighing the dough for each loaf. But they do allow themselves a little electricity to see inside the oven. 

The building is somewhat bricked up and closed up, to keep out the pigeons. And it takes a while to re-open the building, the oven, and get the wood for a big fire. So it's a rare party when it happens. We're lucky enough to be here for the day, and to get some celebratory home-made pizza samples along with the loaves of bread we buy. Buy, rip into, devour, and enjoy.
To me, there's something so quintessentially French and sweet (and delicious) about the small-town community spirit and the desire to keep alive this part of their history.

Bonette is a raw sheep's milk farmhouse cheese from a small sheep farm in Jausiers, in the mountains of the Hautes-Alpes, in the Parc National de Mercantour. It's a beautiful town, a beautiful region, and a beautiful cheese, and the cheese is named after a local hill (beautiful, of course) called the Col de la Bonette because of its mound-like shape.
An aged cheese, it's got a creamy-crumbly interior, with a salty, fruity, vegetal flavor. It's aged, but not too strong, without much of that wet sheep aftertaste, despite the presence of wet sheep all around the farm.

Not only does Bonette taste great on a loaf of fresh-from-the-ancient-oven bread -- and we should know, since we bought the bread and cheese on the same day and ate them together -- it kind of looks like a rough-hewn, nubbly boule de pain de campagne (country bread loaf), rather than a sleek baguette.
We are actually halted in our tracks on the way from the boulangerie to the fromagerie by a troop of sheep, almost certainly the very same ones who provide the milk for the Bonette we buy.  
The Col de la Bonette is a local hill, where the sheep graze, and near the base of which we buy our bread. So really, you see the connection here. This bread and cheese go together like, well, like bread and cheese.


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