If you love good bread, chances are you will be familiar with the name Poilâne. We started working with Lionel Poilâne in the mid-90s, flying his bread in each week to supply a small, but growing group of customers who had developed a taste for his dense and flavorful bread while traveling abroad. Since the “Ici Pain Poilâne” sign went up in our shop, the demand for this famed French bread has steadily increased.
Poilâne was founded in 1932 by Pierre Poilâne, Lionel’s father. Originally from Normandy, he opened his bakery in the 6th Arrondissement in Paris. In 1978, at the age of 28, Lionel assumed control of the company from his father. He went on to supervise the growth of the company and played a key role in defending France’s bread heritage and traditional methods of baking. In 2002, Lionel and his wife, Ibu, were tragically killed in a helicopter accident. Their daughter, Apollonia, took over the business and ran this Parisian institution from just down the street – in her Harvard dorm room. Today, Apollonia continues to helm Poilâne’s operations, stringently maintaining standards, keeping the product line focused and adhering to the artisan traditions established by her grandfather, Pierre.
Poilâne’s pain au levain, inscribed with a beautiful cursive “P,” is the bakery’s best known loaf – sometimes referred to simply as Pain Poilâne. Each loaf is made with only four ingredients – sourdough, flour, water and Guérande sea salt – and weighs about 4-lbs. They are baked in Poilâne’s “manufactory,” located in Bièvres, a suburb just outside of Paris where the wood-burning ovens operate 24-hours a day. The resulting bread is crusty, beautifully fragrant, dense yet porous and keeps very well (for a week if refrigerated).
These days, we receive our weekly shipment of Poilâne bread every Thursday and, in addition to the pain au levain, we bring in Poilâne’s currant and walnut loaves. Pain Poilane is delicious simply with a smear of salted French butter (a favorite snack of Ihsan, Formaggio Kitchen’s owner), or as Apollonia Poilâne likes to eat it, with soft-boiled eggs!
We are able to special order larger quantities of Poilâne breads for customers. Special orders require one week advance notice — and, for planning purposes, please note that our shipment from Poilâne arrives every Thursday. Please call our shop in Cambridge at 617-354-4750 and ask for the bread counter for details and pricing. If you are not local to our Cambridge shop, please place orders for Poilâne bread online.