La Croûte : Serving up fresh bread a lifetime in the making

La Croûte : Serving up fresh bread a lifetime in the making

Lee Finnie of Athelstan sells his freshly baked bread at the Huntingdon County Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays in Huntingdon and at Serenplicity in Ormstown on Fridays.

Crédit photo : Sarah Rennie

You know you have a good thing going when people will travel across the whole of the Haut-Saint-Laurent to line up outside a bakery hidden away inside a garage in Athelstan for their weekly supply of fresh baked bread.
The bread pilgrimage is nothing new for Lee Finnie, who admits to travelling into Montreal for years after finding a French bakery that produced the bread he remembered from rural France, where he spent time as a young teenager learning French. “I ate the bread and I couldn’t believe it,” he says, remembering how frustrated he was upon moving out on his own years later and not being able to replicate the same taste and texture as traditional French bread. “It took me 30 years to find my bread,” he says of the little bakery that quelled his cravings. Upon retiring four years ago, he found a steal on Kijiji and bought his own deck oven, adapted it to add a steamer, and began to experiment.
A completely self-taught bread maker, who honed his craft reading books and watching YouTube videos, he decided there might be a market for his bread. After 2 years, he began to sell fresh loaves from a makeshift bakery in the back of his garage. He started with five very loyal customers at first, but the numbers slowly grew as what had been meant to be a simple retirement project took on a life of its own. Finnie now regularly sells out of his freshly baked loaves, baguettes and buns at the Huntingdon County Farmers’ Market and he also now delivers bread to Serenplicity in Ormstown.
“I’m a victim of my own success,” he laughs, while clearly pleased with the popularity of his products. “The big thing about this,” says Finnie, “is that if you make a decent loaf of bread, I can’t think of anything easier to sell.” Bread is, after all, a universal food, enjoyed by almost every culture. And good bread stands out.
“It’s about having the ultimate, superior loaf of bread,” he continues, suggesting there are still two elements standing in the way of a perfect loaf in his mind. First, he would need his own stone mill in order to grind flour with the germ to maintain the nutritional value as well as the oils, but in small enough quantities it would not turn rancid. Second, he would need to upgrade his oven from a deck oven to a masonry oven designed exclusively for baking bread. In the meantime, he is satisfied with what he is able to do with his oven, where his loaves are cooked directly on the deck without molds. “I’m happy with it,” he says, noting he often receives compliments, especially on his baguettes. He is especially appreciative when the accolades come from Europeans – some having dubbed his loaves the best baguette in Canada.

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