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The Noble French Baguette Achieves UNESCO Heritage Status

I am here
Warm, light, magical
Under your arm or in your basket
Let me give the rhythm
To your day of idleness or work

– Cécile Piot, French baker and poet, describing the baguette

The iconic French baguette, the elongated loaf of crusty bread, was named last Wednesday to UNESCO’s “intangible cultural heritage” list. The website says the baguette is recognized as part of “the country’s heritage and its importance in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of increasing globalization.”

The baguette is ubiquitous in France, seen everywhere in cities and rural villages. Bakeries make hundreds of thousands each day. French people buy more than six billion each year, according to the National Federation of French Bakeries and Patisseries, which led the push to get the baguette on the UNESCO list.

“250 grams of magic and perfection”

The humble loaf has set the pace for life in France for decades and has become an essential part of French identity. In a tweet, President Emmanuel Macron described the baguette as “250 grams of magic and perfection in our daily lives.” They’re as French as the Eiffel Tower, the Seine or the Peugeot.

They’re a central part of French food culture, and many families insist on buying at least two daily, one for breakfast and another for dinner. You can’t eat the baguette you bought for breakfast for dinner! It’s not fresh enough! A new one is called for and the leftover baguette is relegated to croutons or offerings to birds.

You see stacks of them in the boulangeries/patisseries, people carry them home under their arms or in bicycle baskets. Babies chew on the nub of a baguette to soothe the discomfort of teething.

And you’d think the enormous demand for baguettes would lead to poor quality. But over many visits to France, I never tasted a lousy baguette.

The French standard

French bakers take enormous pride in their staple product. The baguette could not be more straightforward regarding ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast (commercial or sourdough). But most bakers are highly particular about the flour they use, not to mention the filtered water, the variety of sea salt and the levain they use to raise the bread.

The time-tested techniques used to mix the dough, proof and shape it are strictly followed. A French baker can spend years apprenticing to learn the trade, with a great deal of that time focused on learning to make the perfect baguette.

I’ve written here about how Jennifer and I spent two spring seasons in the small French village of La Roche Vineuse in the Burgundy region. We fell into the town’s rhythm, including a couple of daily trips to the local boulangerie/patisserie. We bought baguettes and pastries and saw the same people in line at dinner as we’d seen before breakfast.

The best boulangerie in all of France

In the morning, we’d buy a baguette and a selection of pastries and hurry home to put on the Moka pot. Along with the exquisite butter and cheese, we’d swoon almost daily about how spectacular the baguettes were. Crispy, soft and chewy, tasting faintly of popcorn. We couldn’t stop eating until the whole bag of goodies was gone.

And, in a state of food ecstasy, I’d often speculate that the boulangerie/patisserie in La Roche Vineuse was possibly the finest in all of France. I’m sure it wasn’t. It was a small bakery, a family-run business. It simply met the French standard of food excellence. A standard quite a bit higher than those for food that we follow here. That French standard is reflected in this UNESCO heritage designation.

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The UNESCO recognition also notes the baguette’s role in France’s cultural fabric. It’s as central to the country as other international additions to the list. Read the list of other traditions added this year. These include “mansaf,” the traditional dish of mutton and rice from Jordan; winter bear festivals in Pyrenean villages; and Kun Lbokator, a classic martial art in Cambodia.

A critical time for the baguette

The French baguette’s new status comes at a critical time. Economic upheavals, especially from the war in Ukraine, have pushed the price of bread, flour and other commodities through the roof. The traditional boulangeries/patisseries have also been closing in rural villages at an alarming rate. (See my blog post from two years back). Not to mention the spectre of coin/credit card vending machines that sell baguettes in the absence of village bakeries.

And five years ago, sales of hamburgers exceeded those of “jambon-buerre,” sandwiches made with ham on a buttered baguette.

I can attest to this crude intrusion of North American culture. Not far from La Roche Vineuse, where Jennifer and I stayed, near the city of Mâcon, we’d pass a fast-food place called “Le Hamburger Joint.” And we often had to go sit in a nearby McDonald’s restaurant to use its WiFi network. Screaming kids and exhausted-looking parents filled the place. Dommage!

“Le Hamburger Joint”

Things are changing in France, which is why the UNESCO status for the baguette is timely. A recent New York Times article polled some Parisian bakers who said the UNESCO baguette status would do little to help them. The rising costs of wheat and flour, they said, would probably force them to raise their prices even further.

“This UNESCO recognition won’t help us through the winter,” said Pascale Giuseppi, who runs a bakery near the Champs Élysées. “We still have bigger bills to pay,” she said.

Nearby, another baker, Jean-Luc Aussant, said he was “not really in the mood to celebrate anything” and, brushing flour from his fingers, grumbled that the recognition would change “nothing.”

“Now that I think about it,” he added, “I might use this as an excuse to increase the price of my baguettes.”


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  1. The U.S. food writer Bill Bruford speaks of this “standard” in French culture. In his terrific book Dirt, a miller says to Buford:

    “In the country, we don’t change as fast as people in the city. For us, the meal is still important. We don’t ‘snack,’” he said, using the English word.

    “What I learned from my father and grandfather is what they learned from their fathers and grandfathers. There is a handing off between generations.” The word he used was transmettre. Le goût et les valeurs sont transmis.

    Flavor and value: those are the qualities that are transmitted.

    Only in France would “flavor” and “value” have the same moral weight.

    Bill Buford, “Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking. 2020

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