If you silently finished the thought in the headline with “…our daily bread,” then you may well be French. Because few things are as important to the French as their bread.
If you’ve visited France, you know. If you haven’t, but have ever seen a photo of Paris or watched a movie involving France, you also know.
Do French people walk along the street with a baguette tucked under their arms? Yes. At virtually any hour. Only in Paris? No, also here in the Greater Daglan Area, among many other regions. Do they nibble on the end of the baguette as they stroll along, because they simply can’t wait until they reach home? Yes. Do they get panicky in a restaurant if the bread basket isn’t brought to their table quickly? Yes. Here are just a few more examples, and observations:
The staff of life. A friend of ours who lives near Daglan tells us that bread may be particularly important in France because it was sometimes only bread that sustained people during two world wars and tough economic times. Our friend also says that in many French homes, a new loaf of bread is blessed before it’s sliced, and once it’s blessed, it would be sacrilege to turn the loaf upside down on the table. I’ve never observed that myself, but I can believe it.
Patience, people. Even in the calm village of Daglan, the locals can get pretty frantic when it appears there may be a snag in the supply chain of bread. We’ve seen men pacing up and down in front of the local bakery on a Sunday morning, checking their watches every 10 or 15 seconds, because the doors weren’t opened promptly at 8 a.m. When the bakery does open, let’s say at 8:03, there’s a rush to go inside — even if there are only two people in the “lineup” — in order to get first choice of the available loaves.
Bread with everything. The French seem to be able (and more than willing) to eat bread with almost anything, including pizza. When my wife and I have lunch at Au Bureau in Sarlat, we often choose the cheeseburgers, because they’re awfully good. My wife orders hers without the bun (because she has an allergy to gluten), and that has completely confounded our server several times. As for me, the server always brings a bread basket to our table just after placing my cheeseburger (on a very large bun) in front of me. Then he or she looks astounded when I say, “No, thanks.” The server always confirms: “No bread?”
Where to go in the GDA. Now I can’t claim to be an expert on bread in our area (or any area, for that matter), because I don’t eat it that often (and my wife Jan can only eat gluten-free bread, which we buy in a specialty food store). But here are some anecdotal comments on where to buy bread and other baked goods in a few nearby villages:
Cénac. This village, about 10 kilometres from Daglan, has had two bakeries for some time. The big news is that the Banette bakery recently suffered a major fire, and is closed. The word is that it will re-open down the street. I’ve found that its pastries are pretty good, but its croissants are a bit on the dry side. So I prefer the wood-oven bakery at the far end of the village, and have really enjoyed its whole-grain and nut breads. Very nice with cheese.
Castelnaud. Also about 10 kilometres from Daglan, Castelnaud has a very good bakery next to a small plaza at the foot of the château. The quality seems to apply not only to the breads but also to the breakfast pastries (like croissants) and desserts.
Fongauffier. This is a tiny hamlet that lies just below Belvès, and is some 20 kilometres from Daglan. A resident of Fongauffier happened to mention that its bakery was particularly good, so we tried it out — Jan had a gluten-free chocolate dessert; I had a slice of apricot-and-red-fruit tart; and I also bought a loaf of olive bread. All of them were either good or excellent. It’s a strange little place, since it used to be a service station and still functions as a convenience store as well as a bakery. But it’s worth trying.
Daglan. Here at home, it’s a mixed bag. The various breads at our bakery seem to be okay, because Le Petit Paris serves slices of one type of country loaf with its rillettes. The pain au raisins (raisin pastries for breakfast) are pretty good. But the croissants are to be avoided; they’re way too large, crusty on the outside, and almost hollow on the inside — to paraphrase an old English expression, they’re “great blown up beasties, no substance in them.” When our bakery is closed for a vacation, there are breads and croissants available at our convenience store (the 8 à Huit) that are brought in from Castelnaud. Hurrah!
The bottom line? If you like bread and pastries, you’ll like France, and the GDA. But you’ll still have to choose carefully, so it pays to shop around.