Saturday, December 29, 2007

Miche (the whole miche, and nothing but the miche)

My love of miche has turned me into a neurotic freak! Ahhhhhhhgggggggg!

I've hit the wall. My need for a loaf of bread, even if it is a sublime loaf of bread, has taken over my life. Thanks to Bo for the illustration above (RHB is for Red Hen Baking Co., where I work. If you want to see more great silk screened images (on organic cotton t-shirts, no less) go to eatmorekale and check out Bo's business.

If you want to see what Red Hen says about Miche go here: bread varieties and scroll down to Mountain Miche.

Mountain Miche is a close relative of pain de campagne (bread of Campagne, France). I did a bit of research and found this map here, which I instantly recognized from the (old) break room wall at Red Hen! I can't read this web version, but it made me feel better, knowing I was on the right track.

Tracking the origins of my love of this bread, that is.

This is a long story, so pull up a comfortable chair and perhaps something nice to drink.

In 1983 I became a student at Goddard College, in Plainfield, Vermont. At that point in Goddard's history this was just about the nadir of it's student attendance record, due in large part to a massive retrenchment of the college's programs about 2 years before (it took awhile for things to get really, really bad). One of the silver linings of the retrenchment was the great attachment many of the faculty, staff and students had for the central Vermont region.

A couple of these stalwarts were Jules and Helen Rabin. Jules had been a professor of history (I believe) at Goddard before the retrenchment, and Helen was/is an artist. Sometime between 1981 and 1983 Jules decided to write a book about the history of bread baking in France. And towards that goal he built a little brick oven in his back yard, just like village bread bakers of France have been building for maybe the past thousand years. And started baking a variety of regional breads of France. Maybe the oven and baking came first, and then the book idea came second, but for the purposes of this story, it's not so important.

Sometime before fall 1983 Jules and Helen decided to start selling their breads in some local stores, under the name Upland Bakers (aka Rabin's Bread). They sold a stout baguette, a rye, a whole wheat, rolls, and a pain de campagne. There may have been a couple of other varieties, but these are the ones I remember.

The little convenience store just down the road from Goddard (aka The Red Store) sold the baguettes at the checkout counter, naked as the moment they were pulled from the oven. I don't mind the bags bread is required to be sold in these days, but there was something about these loaves of bread lying bare-ass on the counter which facilited them quickly landing in hungry students hands. Um, also, they were only .99 cents.

I was fully prepared for my introduction to Upland Bakers bread by my mom, who loved, loved, loved a good loaf of home made bread. She spent probably a quarter of her time in the kitchen baking bread, and this is saying something, considering she spent a quarter of her waking hours in the kitchen cooking or baking. But that's another story. All you need to know, for now, is that I inherited my love of food directly from mom.

Many loaves baked and consumed later we come to the sad sad day when Jules and Helen decide to retire. I think this was in the summer of the year 2000. I, along with a good portion of central Vermont, was bereft. What to do? How would we survive without the crusty crunchy chewy wonderfullness of Upland Bakers (insert bread variety here)???

Perhaps not so coincidentally the year 2000 saw a remarkable surge in artisan bread bakers all over the state. When Upland Bakers started there were no other artisan bread bakers in central Vermont. There were, perhaps, several others in the state. By the time the Rabin's retired there were so many artisan bread bakers there wasn't enough shelf space to accomodate them all. Not that any of these other bakers came close in quality. Or at least that's what I thought, until I had a sample of Red Hen Baking Co.'s Mountain Miche at the local farmer's market. Initially it was the memory of Upland Bakers' pain de campagne in Red Hen's Miche that pulled me in, but eventually the miche itself kept me coming back.

About a year and a half ago I started working at Red Hen. One of the first things I recieved as an employee was a bakery t-shirt (see illustration above), with a silk-screen of the infamous miche pictured. Sometime in the past 6-9 months I started getting an employee standing order of one loaf of miche each week. At first I was able to get it on Thursday nights, at the end of my shift. But the bakers' schedule changed and the loaves were coming out hours after my shift end. So I switched my order to Fridays and picked it up at the farmer's market on Saturdays. Miche is meant to settle overnight, so although this sounds unlikely, this was actually an ideal solution. Until I started coming up to the Red Hen booth at the farmer's market looking for "my" loaf of miche first, and visiting Randy, the owner, and the other people who worked at the booth, second. Unghgh. I really wanted my miche. I really wanted to visit. I really, really wanted my miche. Then the farmer's market season ended. But wait! One Saturday each month there will be an indoor market in my town! Oh boy. At about the same time the bakery moved six miles closer to where I live. So I decided to start driving to the bakery on Saturdays (one of my days off) to pick up my miche. Awesome you say? Sort of.

Today I picked up my miche. I'd asked the packer to set aside a loaf of Friday's bake for me to pick up on Saturday, instead of switching out a loaf the wholesale manager would set aside for me on Thursday (switching a day-old loaf for a fresh loaf). The packer wrote "(D)Eva - me miche" on the bread bag he'd set aside for me. Diva? Oh man, I thought, this is getting bad. But the real corker came just a few seconds later.

Randy, one of the owners, was at the bakery when I stopped by. He asked me if I wanted to have breakfast at a restaurant off the regular delivery route, if I could deliver bread there for Red Hen first. I agreed. But I got all flustered on my way out and left one of three bags of bread (holding probably 20 loaves) behind. I didn't realize this until I arrived at the restaurant. I delivered the two bags I had, collected payment for the three bags, and turned around to collect the third bag to finally deliver, which I did without mishap.

Then I ordered some lunch, as it was getting late for breakfast. I went for the catfish gumbo and home made biscuits. Tasty, but way too hot for me. I seated myself near the door (silly, I know), and as I was finishing the gumbo there was a delivery, and then a bunch of people coming and going, and the door got left open. Brrr. One of the people coming in and leaving the door open was David Mamet, who lives nearby part time. I recognized him instantly. I tend to stare (it's an artist's burden, I can't help it, really) and this case was no different. Between feeling unnerved at his arrival (lots of his family and friends as well) and the door hanging open (and asking someone to catch the door on their way out) and finishing my gumbo, I decided it was time to go. I got up from my seat and instead of waiting for the check I walked up to the cash register counter and waited for the waitress to take note of me. The chef was paying for the aforementioned delivery and asked if I'd been helped, so I explained. Eventually, between him, the waitress who took my order and the one who served me, I paid my check and left.

I'm thinking I may have to give up the miche, if restaurant mortification is what is becoming of me.

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