Le Carnet de France
Every Friday afternoon, hundreds of Tourangeaux (residents of Tours) walk towards the train station — not to take train, as you may have imagined, but to buy bread! From a store? No, from a little delivery tricycle named “Triticum”; triticum is the name of a wheat, and the trike belongs to a fellow named Thibaud.
After finishing school, Thibaud — a charming and very entrepreneurial young man, now 30 years of age — applied to the “Compagnons du Devoir et du Tour de France.” This association was created in France in the Middle Ages. It trains young people in more than 30 specific trades including ironwork, woodwork and leather, but also gardening, winemaking, baking and many others.
Once accepted, these “compagnons” are committed to a five-to-eight year program with the association. They spend a year in each of a number of different towns in France (hence “Tour de France”) and one year in a foreign country. They learn the theory (at school) and the practice (with professionals) of their own trade. In each town, they live in the same house, the “maison des compagnons.” In Tours, today, there are 60 compagnons and they all live in one of the most beautiful mansions in the old part of town. The mansion dates from the 18th century and was refurbished after the Second World War by some compagnons.
Nearby, is the Musée du compagnonnage de Tours, housed in the old Abbey St. Julien de Tours. It exhibits masterpieces made by compagnons from the 19th century onwards and organizes temporary show, of great interest to the many numerous visitors who come from France and from other countries.
From a very young age, our friend Thibaud enjoyed baking. With the compagnons, he studied in Nantes, Reims, Angers and Paris, with his year abroad was in Oslo, Norway. He then joined one of the main mills of France in Poilly-les-Giens near Orléans. They have a laboratory with ten researchers analyzing different cereal varieties, which are all organic and grown in France. They are also exported internationally, especially to South America. Thibaud, being a consultant for the mill, trains bakers and chefs in restaurants and five-star hotels all over the world.
Thibaud also likes direct contact with the clientele, so he decided to spend Friday afternoons selling his own bread. He prepares the dough Thursday evening and lets it sit whole night long. He also realized that artisan bakers’ ovens are hot at night but cold in the morning, so he made an arrangement with a local baker to use his oven on Friday mornings, when he bakes his own bread.
Every week, Thibaud creates a new bread or a new “viennoiserie.” He only uses organic cereals — einkorn, emmer, spelt, rivet wheat, buckwheat, oak, barley. The menu can include a white chocolate and lime bread, a cocoa bread, a buckwheat and raisin bread and, of course, the most delicious sourdough baguette. His brioches are either flavored with verbena, elderberry or another syrup or filled with pink pralines or chestnuts — “Tout un programme.” Between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Fridays in the station, he sells an average of 500 loaves of bread!
The French people are known for being impatient and not respecting queues, but I have noticed that Thibaud’s customers are very discipled and know they are going to buy an exceptional product from a very nice baker; they wait patiently.
The “Gare de Tours” is not the worst place to wait. It is considered one of the nicest train stations in France. It was built by a local architect, Victor Laloux, in 1846. He also built the Hôtel de Ville (city hall) of Tours and the Basilica of Saint-Martin (mentioned in my previous article on the pilgrimage of St Jacques de Compostelle). In Paris, he designed the Gare d’Orsay in Paris, which is now the Musée d’Orsay, the American Embassy on the Avenue Gabriel and other impressive buildings.
Martine P. Dulles lives in Tours, in the Loire valley of France. Martine was a docent at the MET in New York and later a licensed tour guide in Charleston where they lived for 11 years. She now organizes bespoke guided tours in France. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.