JIN BOULANGERIE – HANDCRAFTED BREADS & CROISSANTS
Deep in the backcountry of Hokkaido raw nature still dominates the landscape. Black roads run alone into the the distant horizon flanked on either side by endless galleries of upright golden birch trees that stand naked in the white of winter. For those of us living in metropolitan Asia, Hokkaido represents a fantasy getaway from the congested air, noise and space of densely populated cities. Sapporo may be the city they most have heard of when thinking of Hokkaido however our day’s destination lies on the western side of the island. Our target is one of the world’s most remote artisan bakeries – its name is Jin Boulangerie and its handcrafted breads and croissants are some of the greatest you will ever taste.
Accessible only by car or bicycle it seems a miracle that Jin Boulangerie can even exist here. Bakeries usually require a steady flow of customers to survive as is the case in large cities. On our visit we were told they attract a lot of Japanese tourists in the summer and also supply the bread to Maccarina Restaurant. Their business was built on word of mouth and the quality of their crafted breads and pastries is their calling card. The tiny village of Makkari-mura occupies a pristine swath of land that produces exceptional produce due to the purity of water flowing from an underground source, rich soil and clean environment. It has attracted a rich bounty of agricultural and hospitality talent as exemplified by the much heralded Maccarina Restaurant that sources from both local farms and the wild forests that weave around it. As we approach our destination a simple outline of a boulangére (French for baker) appears, cut out from a sheet of black metal to create a visual appetizer for the craftsmanship that takes place inside. An arched light fixture hanging overhead heightens that feeling as its warm light glows onto the cold, snowy ground before us. Stacked firewood runs alongside the attractive building’s walls.
MAKING OF A BAKER
Born in 1974 in Hokkaido Jin Tomonori is a could simply be called a hunting village baker. He trained in the Hôtel de Kaiser of the Windsor Hotel Toya fame – which was known for great food served within an exclusive environment and overlooking the beautiful Lake Toya. This is the same hotel that has hosted the G7 summit and also has some of the great restaurants in Hokkaido including Michel Bras’ outpost restaurant. Many star chefs have emerged from this training ground to go on open restaurants, bakeries and pastry shops of supreme quality and located through Japan including Osaka, Tokyo and Kyoto. Starting out as a French cook Jin would later fall in love with bread making and travelled to Paris to enrich himself in his craft. In 2004 he took the final step of his dream and opened a French bakery by first single-handedly building a garage to bake from. Soon after he wrote to the architect Nakamura Yoshifumi with the goal of commissioning the design of a unique lifestyle bakery in the town of Maccarina in order to build a better bread-making environment. In opening his own place he took the the bread making process one step further – some would say more traditional – and chose to bake in a wood fired oven. For those who have tried both electric and wood-fired oven they will understand the significantly different challenge it presents. Modern electric ovens offer control and consistency that a wood oven can match only under the watch of an deeply experienced baker. Still, if you live on the cusp of wild nature why not commit fully to the experience? The romantic notions wood-fired ovens offer up to the imagination make it a significant drawing card to the the travelling customers. Few bakeries attempt this method today and rarer still in the city – Princi in Milan and London is one that comes to mind.
CRAFTING AN ARTISAN LIFESTYLE
Architect Nakamura Yoshifumi, responding to a heartfelt request to craft a small building that would be the focal point for an artisan baker’s lifestyle. In the past Nakamura has focused mainly on designing “lifestyle huts” that take on the forms the client requires. His past projects have included residences, restaurants, cafes, and small private museums. Nakamura. His belief that the “hut” is an archetype of the house stems from his travels to huts in all places and built across many ages. Influences include Le Corbusier’s holiday hut in the south of France, Bernard Shaw’s hut outside of London and Kotaro Takamura’s hut in Hanamaki, Iwate. He himself lives in a hut called the “Lemm Hut” in the alpine village of Nagano. What the architect and baker share in common is they both seek to achieve an energy self-sufficient life as simply as possible, working with their hands, and living self-sufficiently surrounded by nature.
Entering the interior of Jin Boulangerie it becomes immediately apparent its roots in the classic French boulangerie. The smell of toasted amber crusts and richly fragrant fermented butter fills the air. The reason Japanese gourmands are willing to travel such a long distance quickly becomes apparent. In a country as food-obsessed as Japan is, this remotely located bakery does ask a lot from their customer – but somehow delivers it in spades.
Hard or crusty handcrafted breads on offer include 4 to 5 kinds including the signature round country bread. All handcrafted breads undergo long fermentation which lends subtle complexity to flavors and deepens the texture of crusts that are crispy and chewy all at once. The bread interiors are a shiny, mocha hue with infinite bubbles, all seemingly a different size. Aromas are complex and flavors stand tall due to the subtle acidity rendered by the long fermentation and use of a wild yeast starter called ‘the chef’. The quality of the flours, many of which are procured from Hokkaido itself, are outstanding. Even rarer, some bread is made from wheat grown and harvested in the village of Makkari itself. This is part of a local project taken together with Maccarina Restaurant to support local farm production. These are very rare handcrafted breads and a must try for the bread connoisseur.
Glossy amber pastries on offer include three or four classics including croissant, paint au raisan (pastry cream + currants) and pain au chocolate. These are more rustic than what you find in the metropolitan bakeries but every bit as delicious. Each bite of the classic croissant starts with delicate, crispy textures that give way to a soft chewy interior. The butter used here has a fermented quality that lends the croissant greater complexity and richness. The wood-fired oven adds dark spots or edges randomly which imparts on each croissant an individual uniqueness and it is this element that sets Jin Boulangerie apart. There is something intrinsicly satisfying about eating this rustic creation in a place teeming with nature’s beauty. Here all of the elements of a memorable food experience combine in perfect harmony. A trip to this remote village bakery offers the persistent gourmand an opportunity to taste nature’s poetry at its best.
LOCATION & HOURS
ADDRESS: Hokkaido Abuta-gun Makkari village Sakuragawa 45-8
OPEN: 9:00 to 18:00