Professor Calvel

Hubert Chiron – In Memoriam, December 2005

Three-fold training at the best period for bread making

Raymond Calvel in baker uniform in 1930 in his hometown of Lagrave in Tarn.

Raymond Calvel in baker uniform in 1930 in his hometown of Lagrave in Tarn.

Raymond Calvel’s expertise was based on an out-of-the-ordinary work ethic and three-fold training. Firstly, between 1930 and 1933, he was apprenticed to a rural baker, enabling him to acquire solid traditional know-how. In his native Tarn region of France, the apprentice acquired the fundamentals of age-old bread making, namely handling dough, fermentation using natural yeast, and shaping split and twisted breads. Calvel’s thirst for knowledge then took him to Paris where he undertook further training at the recently opened École de Boulangerie des Grands Moulins. He learnt the secrets of bread making, the subtleties of four-hour proofing, and harmonious scoring on Parisian baguettes. Calvel was a studious pupil and was quickly spotted by his teachers. He took advantage of all the opportunities offered over the 1933 – 1936 period to work with the French capital’s best bakers.

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In student uniform of the “Grands Moulins” Baker School of Paris in 1933.

The third stage of his training began when he decided to enrol at the École Française de Meunerie (which became ENSMIC in 1971). The young newly qualified baker met a leading light in milling, Henri Nuret, at the school. Nuret was conducting key research on optimising cylinder-based milling plans. Mutual respect and then a solid friendship took hold between these two men, with the older man helping Calvel to become a rigorous experimenter. In 1938, Nuret invited him to produce technical papers. The young researcher-baker collected and honed industry terminology. He utilized high-quality bread making techniques until the outbreak of World War II. Calvel had close ties with the Trade Union of Paris Bakers and quickly started to teach vocational classes; indeed he would carry on teaching bread making until he retired in 1978. In 1980, he started to pass on his experience to the compagnons boulangers du devoir (members of a French organization of artisan bakers).

The École de Meunerie as his home base

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Henri Nuret professor of “Ecole de Meunerie” with who Raymond Calvel write the book “Les succédanés en panification” in 1948.

Following his return from captivity, Calvel and Nuret stepped up their bread making research and in 1948 they published Les succédanés en panification. This book demonstrates the breadth and precision of Calvel’s know-how, particularly with regard to variants used when working with yeast. Calvel became a technical advisor at UNCAC in 1946 and swiftly seized the opportunity to travel abroad for work, going on trips to the UK in 1948 and the US in 1950, among others. Calvel received a request from the Land of the Rising Sun and travelled to Japan in 1954 to perform demonstrations. His three-month tour of the country from north to south laid the foundations for French bread becoming established in the Land of the Rising Sun. Indeed, this was the beginning of a close partnership, with Professor Calvel going on to make over 30 trips to Japan.

A highly valued consultant for industrial bread making and bakery products

In the 1950s, Calvel worked actively on melba toast manufacturing processes. He was frequently asked to be a consultant by French bakery products firms which were experiencing strong growth at the time. His 1951 article on melba toast manufacturing technology is a model of its kind. He was also involved in the launch of Den Boer tunnel ovens for industrial baking (Eullaffroy 1952). Calvel was highly esteemed and was approached up until the 1980s to adjust bakery product and French bread production lines abroad.

Kneading and bread making

Kneading and its impact on bread’s sensory properties are a recurrent theme in R. Calvel’s publications. Having been alerted by a number of millers, in summer 1957, Calvel travelled to Western France to study the intensified kneading white bread method being developed in the local bakeries. On his return, he expressed reservations about the high quantities of yeast being used and already talked about the crumb being like “a honeycomb”. He noted that the crumb was whiter than usual and was a matt lifeless white, a chalky white. He warned against this new kneading technique, as the creamy white hue – one of the key characteristics of French bread – was reduced or disappeared. Calvel subsequently observed the effective and even spectacular action of broad bean flours as a whitening agent in the intensified kneading technique. In 1961, Calvel admitted that broad bean flour at 1 or 1.5% was a precious bread improver, while adding the following caveat, “there is a significant risk involved, despite its attractiveness, as it may lead to people losing interest in bread, as the whiter and bulkier the bread, the more insipid and odourless it becomes.” In February 1967, he published a seminal article entitled Kneading and bread making in which he once again underscored the damaging effects of intensified kneading. “Bread quality does not benefit from it, and without people realizing what is happening, the younger generations are losing their taste for bread.” During the same year, Calvel unsuccessfully advocated improved kneading and got involved in promoting the so-called Super Art bread made using broad bean-free flour with 0.53% ash.

A witness to the mechanisation of the bakery trade

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Kneading a dough biscuit in 1962 in Granville in Magdeleine company.

Calvel witnessed first-hand the modernisation of bakehouses which picked up speed once the white bread method had been publicized throughout France. He was frequently approached and in 1959 highlighted the difficulties stemming from the use of the first bread shaping machines. In 1961, Calvel thought that the new cold-based delayed fermentation techniques offered the chance to make for greater flexibility in the production plans and reduce night working in bakehouses. However, by 1967, Calvel had become disillusioned by several cases of bad practice and wrote that “progress being made on bread making equipment is happening at a frenzied pace.”

A proponent of starter cultures

Calvel campaigned for the two fermentation phases to be respected, as he believed that one of the secrets of tasty bread was to be found in a generous quantity of pre-fermented dough. In 1961, he gave advice to Marc Eullafroy in his article entitled “Making slow proofed bread”. Calvel had an excellent grasp of all the different proofing methods and, as of April 1967, became a proponent of starter cultures. In 1970, the professor heavily criticized accelerated fermentation and dough that was “stuffed with yeast.” The opposing camp argued that his method took time and that proofing was incompatible with some dough dividers, so in April 1980, in his famous editorial entitled “Quick and good?”, he suggested “doing first what it is difficult to do afterwards.” During that same year, Calvel also made a major contribution to the profession by publishing a landmark study on sourdough bread.

A passionate believer in a ‘creamy crumb’

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Lamination demonstration in Japan.

As of 1967, the professor advocated using broad bean-free flour to preserve bread’s natural creamy hue and its sensory properties. He believed that “this pale cream hue is inseparable from the natural aroma of true French bread.” However, over the coming years, the various attempts to promote improved proofing failed and the quality of bread declined. In 1973, Calvel upped the ante in his keynote lecture entitled “Bread development and quality.” In his eyes, bread had become tasteless. It was no longer fit for purpose. The professor flared up in anger and stated that highly active and natural broad bean flour was like “washing powder.”

These repeated attacks meant that the professor received acerbic letters and had lasting enmities. Calvel confessed that the road back to natural bread making would be long and laborious. He was involved in the development and launch of the banette. However, in 1980, he was requested by Alain Storione to share his experience with the team of Unimie bakers and he was involved in the development and launch of the banette (made using specific flour to a special recipe). In January 1983, Calvel re-explained his opposition to lipoxygenase, whether from broad bean flour or soya flour, “please keep us safe, Lord, from both of them,” and his campaign was poised to succeed.

The professor’s inventions: the autolyse resting method and rustic bread

Working in partnership with Tripette and Renaud, in 1964 Calvel designed proofing gauges and then the following year he developed the grain volume meter and a micro-bread making test. In 1974, Calvel published a long article describing the principles behind and the advantages of the autolyse dough resting method. Indeed, the dough autolyse (or self-splitting) technique is now widely used, for example when making traditional French bread. His article on producing rustic pure wheat bread was published in 1983. Calvel was very focused on obtaining dough which was not very oxidised and a ‘wild’ crumb. He recommended abolishing the shaping phase when making bread rolls and rectangular shaped breads. The professor was particularly keen on the “pure wheat” taste of this production method which is sometimes referred to as pains pavés (meaning cobblestone breads in French).

Tireless in retirement, Calvel’s expertise was highly prized abroad

Between 1979 and 2000, Calvel travelled extensively, either alone or with his friend Jean-Jacques Semlangne. The globetrotting expert baker had active partnerships with Brazilian, Argentinean and Korean bakers. Calvel was definitely not a theorist; instead he made quality bread to prove his claims. Make no mistake: these were not honorary trips, as the professor delivered talks and then put his ideas into practice worldwide. Given a lot of support in Japan, he was ably assisted by his friend Hubert Maître in the US and James Macguire in Canada. Calvel was definitely not a theorist; instead he made quality bread to prove his claims. He liked to say that “the truth comes out of the bread oven.” He adapted his know-how and with his unrivalled intuition, this ‘bakehouse magician’ undoubtedly never revealed all of his secrets!

A fascination for Japan

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Crown “bordelaise” and split crown on country bread base with simultaneous translation in Japanese.

Calvel made his second trip to Japan in 1964 and there was a French bread making stand, complete with flour and French equipment, at the Tokyo Trade Fair the next year. This event marked the rise of French bread consumption in Japan. Having deemed the hue of Japanese flour to be “deathly white” in October 1965, the professor managed to convince Japanese millers to stop chemically treating flours. This was a great victory for Calvel and bolstered him in his campaign against taste denaturing agents. Calvel travelled to Japan up to three times a year. He was a star of bread making in the country and paradoxically, although he was well-known in his native France, he was a lot less famous there, indeed, as the Bible says, “a prophet is not without honour, save in his own land.”

A figurehead who was proud of his country and sure of the course to follow

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Europain show of 1986 where Professor Calvel found many foreign trainees.

Right from the outset, Calvel was a baker who was proud of and cared about his country’s image. He was very attached to French bread’s worldwide reputation and, over a 50-year period, he was an exceptional ambassador, raising the profile of French bread outside of France. Calvel was a figurehead who did everything to combat bad practice and was emulated by others. He has left us detailed books and above all a course to follow.

Thank you professor.