Saturday 11 September 2010

Our Daily Bread and the definitive Pain Paillasse

A couple of years ago the rather lacklustre village boulangerie acquired new owners Nico and Anaïs and the bread is no longer a relative of cotton wool in brown paper. La Pétrie, which seems to be a franchise, supply decent flour along with the branding. Their Pétrisane is a tasty basic loaf of substance at a baguette price that keeps well, or at least longer than a baguette.

While Lou Pan Aspiranais is a solid village baker, the finest for some distance is at Canet 5.5 Km away. Their star loaf is the Paillasse, also known as Pain de Lodève. Paillasse is named after a large straw basket where the dough was left to rise in one large mass after kneading. It is only cut and formed into a twisted loaf immediately before going into the oven. Like sourdough, it's made from a starter rather than using yeast and the dough is particularly wet. All this results in some large holes forming and the need to sell the baked loaf by weight - about 1.30 to 2.40 €. Another secret is the wood burning oven that helps impart a delicious nutty toasted character to the crust - I always ask for "bien cuit".

So serious is this operation that they open at 4 a.m. Expect the Pailasses to be sold out by lunchtime.

There seems to be some controversy in the bread world over Paillasse. Pain de Lodève had been made since the middle ages but a Swiss baker, claiming to have developed the recipe independently, patented "Pain Paillasse" in the 1990s and has made a fortune out of selling it in hundreds of bakers. Everyone seems to agree it's basically Pain de Lodève.

Sunday 5 September 2010

Millstone Quarry and Basalt Capitelle walk

Nine a.m. is quite an early start for Aspiranaises the morning after the July 13th annual village meal and general merriment, but there was a good if not prompt turnout for this balade patrimoine. We met at the archaeological site of St-Bézard marked "P" on the map - seem my post Oldest Winery in France for more on that.

The objective was the long abandoned site of a millstone quarry. The walk took us up a lane to a col in the basalt lava flow I described in my volcanoes post. We then headed right along an ancient trading route, although according to my book on Drailles probably not the Roman Cami Ferrat as suggested by the girls leading the walk. The track soon enters the wooded whale-back ridge with the arrow in the picture, taken from the start, indicating the quarry.

Half way along the ridge is this basalt capitelle, typically a shepherd's refuge. While common in the area dark basalt ones are rare.

Just before the capitelle find a right turn along a path that passes next to a rather sad semi-abandoned caravan. This weaves through the oak tree trunks and starts to descend, eventually emerging at the millstone quarry occupying a tree free area the size of a few tennis courts. This overlooks a steeper drop to vineyards below.

At the quarry the dark basalt has given way to a pale conglomerate rock. The basalt was formed less than a million years ago from a lava which flowed like a river to fill what was then a valley. Subsequent erosion washed away the softer surrounding sedimentary rocks to leave the basalt on a ridge and exposing this rock at it's edge.

The first photo, with snippets of feet indicating the scale of things, show a millstone that was never extracted - perhaps as it split. The second outlines where one was extracted.

Millstones from this quarry were known to be used in moulins à eau (water mills) along the Hérault valley.