In this tiny bread lab, Adriano Farano and his team are baking a revolution
Climbing up the rue de la Chine, just after the passage des Soupirs and just before rue de Ménilmontant, at number 49, a small bakery with a bright red front and a royal blue awning catches the eye. Behind the shop windows, the workshop is in full view. Two bakers shape balls of dough and put them in baskets to ferment. On the sidewalk, customers line up to buy rustic loaves off a metal cart at the doorstep.
In this tiny storefront, Pane Vivo (“Living Bread”) bakes and sells organic bread made with stone-ground durum wheat and a 132 year-old natural leaven, or “levain”. The recipe, founder Adriano Farano argues, is good for our health, our planet and our palate. It is also a recipe that took this former journalist three years of research to create.
His inquiry began when he was living in California, and a friend tried to convince him to stop eating gluten. For this Italian, “it’s almost my culture that would crumble if I had to eliminate gluten from my diet,” Adriano says, citing favorite foods from his childhood on the Amalfi Coast.
Yet he was intrigued and put on his “journalist’s cap” to investigate. He discovered that gluten is not unhealthy, but that modern breads are. Today, even France’s beloved baguette is made with soft common wheat and industrial yeast. This method is fast, but produces loaves full of indigestible gluten, with a higher glycemic index than soda and with little nutritional value.
The solution, he found, was to return to ancient methods. Using stone-ground whole-grain durum wheat, natural levain and long fermentation produces breads that have naturally easy-to-digest gluten, less sugar and greater nutritional value. This method is also better for the planet, as ancient wheats require less water and pesticides for example. It also produces breads that are flavorful because diverse living bacteria are allowed to ferment longer, developing more aromas. The loaves also keep longer, about one week as compared to one day for a common baguette.
“Bread is the most consumed food in the world. If you change bread, you change the world. That fascinated me,” Adriano says. So he set out to change bread. The Pane Vivo project was born in California just before Adriano and his family moved back to Paris.
He set up shop in the 20th. “We stumbled upon Ménilmontant a little by chance. It was a godsend. It’s a small village more than a neighborhood, where people know each other, say hello,” Adriano says. While the initial plan was to sell exclusively to restaurants, fate intervened: the bakery opened just 10 days before the March 2020 lockdown. With restaurants closed, he and his team of seven opened the door of their “bread lab” and began selling loaves to the public. Now two-thirds of Pane Vivo’s sales take place at the doorstep. The offer is simple simple, because “in fact, we only have one kind of bread, which we enhance with quality ingredients” such as figs, chocolate chips, olives, or herbs from the Corsican maquis, Adriano explains.
The bread sells well, but Adriano admits it is expensive, costing three or four times per kilo more than the average baguette. The price is due to two factors. First, the flour, which is ground from ancient Russello wheat from Sicily, costs four to five times more than average bread flour. Second, the loaves must ferment four to 10 times longer than the average baguette, which means Pane Vivo makes less bread each day.
While Adriano believes customers get more for their money, he understands that not everyone can afford to make this their daily bread. Pane Vivo’s main goal, Adriano says, is to raise awareness about the difference between “deadly bread and living bread”. In this vein, he has also written a book, “I Won’t Eat That Bread” (“Je ne mangerai pas de ce pain-là”), which retraces his research and calls on consumers and legislators alike to join his “bread revolution” to bring “bread that’s good” within everyone’s reach.