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Is The Baguette On the Verge of a Renaissance?

Might the humble French baguette be on the verge of a renaissance?

In November 2019, I lamented in a blog post that the venerable baguette might be in decline. Scores of rural French boulangeries were closing. They were unable to compete with megastores like Carrefour and Super-U, which sell TVs and liquor alongside peanut butter and pork sirloin. As a result, the megastores pull customers away from the traditional village shops.

In 1970, there were 55,000 “artisanal bakeries” in France (one for every 790 residents). Today, there are only 35,000 bakeries (one for every 2,000).

Some villagers were having to drive several towns away and buy their baguettes from coin-operated vending machines. Giant bakeries outside large cities stock the machines. Industry has finally torn the rural fabric of the country!

Bread is life!

A New York Times article interviewed a rural villager who spoke of the bakeries and how bread is central to their lives. “The bakery has an enormous place in a village,” one man said, “because bread is life.”

The French government has applied to UNESCO to have the baguette given “an intangible cultural heritage status.” UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 1

The intangible cultural heritage designation recognizes a unique body of knowledge or cultural tradition for its contribution to local, national, and world culture.

Intangible culture

It’s an exciting development! It places the baguette and the French baking heritage amid other traditions like falconry, sauna culture in Finland, the Kabuki Theatre of Japan, or Turkish coffee culture and tradition, to name a few.2

UNESCO has already designated Lavash and flatbread making (in countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey) as an intangible cultural heritage status. Why not the French baguette?

French people consume some 10 billion baguettes each year. That’s 320 per second. 3

Les croûtons

With so many baguettes flying out of stores, it’s easy to understand why few make the journey home fully intact. People can’t resist tearing the ends off their baguettes and eating them. The ends are referred to as “les croûtons.”

The baguette is so iconic in French culture; it’s baffling to think it’s barely only 100 years old. It was officially named in a 1920 law that specified its minimum weight at 80 grams and its maximum length at 40 centimetres (approx.. 16 inches).

The long loaf has been around for much longer, according to bread history. The baguette may have begun its evolution in the early 1800s when the Austrian, August Zang, used a steam oven to bake long loaves.

Steam makes a good baguette

I can attest that great steam in the oven is a necessary factor in making good baguettes.

I’ve experimented with baguettes in Mildrith the wood-fired oven and am frustrated with the inability to trap sufficient steam inside her cooking area. The home oven is likewise unsatisfactory. The loaves are not uniformly crispy on the outside and soft inside.

Legend also has it that Napoleon preferred bread to be made in thin sticks because they were easier for soldiers to carry. I find it doubtful that the great French emperor would care about such a trivial detail.

If you’ve ever experienced the glory of a well-made baguette, if you’ve ever opened up a piece and slathered good butter over the soft crumb, you’d understand why the French baguette is one of the world’s great treasures.


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2 thoughts on “Is The Baguette On the Verge of a Renaissance?

  1. Vive la baguette libre!

    1. Damn rights! What about the bloody workers!

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