A new bakery has opened up in Fougères sur Bievre. For two years this small village has been without one. They have had to manage with a dépôt de pain, which is to say, another shop in the town has bread delivered from a nearby village's baker and sells it on their behalf. This situation was deemed unacceptable by the local authorities, and so they purchased the former bakery in the main street of Fougères for €73 000, taking advantage of a state grant of €40 000 from a fund allocated to equiping rural areas. The cost of refurbishing the building to modern standards was €213 000, offset somewhat by making €16 000 from the sale of the old fittings and a grant of 50% of the funds needed. The rest was raised by taking out a loan. The mayor says the interest rate is low, so they can afford it. Most of the refurbishment work was done by local firms.
We've not been in to sample their products, but the new baker-pastry chef, Aurélien Chevolleau, is now installed and the shop looks very smart. Their window proclaims that everything is made in house, in the French tradition and with 100% Label Rouge French wheat. Tradition française is a set of rules for making the bread which means that the baker cannot use premixed dry goods or frozen dough, must allow the bread to prove naturally, must be baking it on the floor of a traditional style oven and must adhere to a strict traditional ingredient list.
We were interested by the Label Rouge wheat. We'd not heard of that before, although Label Rouge is a much trusted food quality certification system in France. So I looked it up to see what the Label Rouge requirements are for wheat.
The two main criteria are that the stored wheat is not treated with an insecticide after harvest, and that only certain varieties of wheat may be used. These wheats are tried and tested varieties chosen for their suitability for bread and baking. The farmer must fertilize his soil, but not too much, so he is producing a wheat that is 'soft' ie low in protein, but not too low. The farmer is required to use agriculture raisonnée ('intelligent agriculture') so pesticides are used when necessary but not prophylactically and not according to a rigid manufacturer recommended calendar schedule. There are no additives (bread improvers, fungus inhibitors, bleaching agents, etc) added to the flour. At every stage -- on the farm, in storage, at the mill -- the wheat is tested and certified as meeting the Label Rouge criteria. One of the things they are testing for is certain fungi, which cause wheat to be dangerous for human consumption.