French baguette gets Unesco heritage status

Here’s something of an iconic yet simple foodstuff to celebrate in our troubled world….

Paris-based UN heritage body UNESCO has voted to include the “artisanal know-how and culture of baguette bread” on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which already includes around 600 traditions from over 130 countries.

There are arguably few things more quintessentially French than the humble baguette. After all, the country is said to produce some 16 million a day.

And yet, the baguette has been in decline in recent years, as traditional bakeries struggle against the rise of things like large supermarkets and the increasing popularity of sourdough.

But now Unesco has added the “artisanal know-how and culture of baguette bread” to its list of 600 other items, joining things like traditional tea making in China and a Korean mask dance known as “talchum” – both also included for the first time in 2022.

Its inclusion “celebrates the French way of life”, Unesco chief Audrey Asoulay said, adding: “The baguette is a daily ritual, a structuring element of the meal, synonymous with sharing and conviviality. It is important that these skills and social habits continue to exist in the future.”

‘Envied around the world’

The exact provenance of the baguette is not known: some suggest the bread was ordered by Napoleon because it would be easier for soldiers to carry, while others suggest it came along later – an easy bread for workers to tear and share without the need of a knife in Paris. Others still credit an Austrian baker in the 1830s for its shape.

However, the baguette as we know it today was only officially named just over 100 years ago, in 1920. It was then that strict rules about what classed as a baguette were put in place – standardised at 80cm and 250g. It even had a fixed price until 1986.

By the middle of the 20th century, the baguette had won over the country. But since 1970, 400 artisanal bakeries have closed down each year, with the total number across France dropping from 55,000 to 35,000 today, according to news agency AFP.

And yet it remains key to French identity, with President Emmanuel Macron saying the baguette was “envied around the world”. Macron – who has long fought to get the baguette added to the list – noted after the announcement that the baguette was “250 grams of magic and perfection in our daily lives”.

For the artisanal bakers who remain dedicated to the loaf, the news also came as a welcome recognition of the craft they had perfected.

“The baguette is flour, water, salt, yeast – and the know-how of the craftsman,” Dominique Anract, president of the baker’s federation, said in a press release.

Parisian baker Priscilla Hayertz acknowledged to AFP that it was “a basic product” but one “that affects all socio-cultural categories, whether you’re rich, poor… it doesn’t matter, everyone eats baguettes”.

Source: BBC