Baguette ‘the envy of the world’, says Emmanuel Macron as he backs calls for bread to get UNESCO status

Emmanuel Macron has thrown his presidential weight behind calls for the United Nations to recognise France’s beloved baguette as a “cultural treasure.”

“I know our bakers,” the youthful president said after hosting a group of master bakers and apprentice bread and pastry makers at the Elyséé palace for the traditional sharing of “galette des rois” cakes to mark the new year.

“They saw that the Neapolitans had managed to get their pizza classed on UNESCO’s world heritage list, and they said why can’t we do this for the baguette. And they’re right,” he said.

The baguette, Mr Macron proudly declared, is envied around the world. 

“We must preserve its excellence and our expertise, and it is for this reason that it should be heritage-listed,” he said.

If he gets his way, the “baguette de tradition” – which by law must be made using only flour, yeast, salt and water, unlike the ordinary baguette where the rules are less tight – could be on the road to UNESCO glory.

French president Emmanuel Macron (R) and his wife Brigitte (C) cut slices of a traditional epiphany cake during a ceremony at the Elysee palace on January 12

French president Emmanuel Macron (R) and his wife Brigitte (C) cut slices of a traditional epiphany cake during a ceremony at the Elysee palace on January 12

Credit:
Christophe Archambault/AFP

The UN’s cultural body meets once a year to decide what will get on to its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which is different from its register of places known as World Heritage Sites which includes the Taj Mahal and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The intangible list is mostly made up of crafts or traditional practices such as yoga, falconry or tango dancing, which the organisation believes should be protected and supported.

But it also includes things related to food or drink, such as coffee culture or beer culture in Belgium.

Last  month the city of Naples, more often in the headlines over mafia violence and rubbish-related woes, got the nod from the UN organisation when it gave its formal recognition to the traditional Neapolitan pizza.

The recognition of pizza making came after an intense lobbying campaign, including a petition signed by more than two million Italians, many of them fed up with culinary abominations they see abroad such as topping pizza with pineapple, prawns, or mayonnaise.

A neapolitan pizza maker prepares a Margarita

A neapolitan pizza maker prepares a Margarita, also on the UNESCO world heritage list

Credit:
ROBERTO SALOMONE/AFP

It was for similar reasons that French bakers, fearful of the spread of poor quality bread in their country, launched their bid for the traditional baguette to join the UNESCO hall of fame.

They say it is not just the name and shape, but the ingredients and the craft of making the long loaves that need to be enshrined in order to save the baguette, which in French also means chopstick, wand or an orchestra conductor’s baton.

“A baguette is the symbol of France, like the Eiffel Tower,” said Dominique Anract, the president of the national confederation of baking and pastry.

“When I see the the growing dominance of French supermarkets and convenience stores in the sale of bread, I say to myself that we must act,” he told the food news website Atablula.

The move would put the baguette on the same list as the Taj Mahal

The move would put the baguette on a par with (though on a different list to) the Taj Mahal

Credit:
 Tian Zhan

He said there are currently 33,000 artisan bakeries across the country which employ 180,000 people.

“This territorial network is unique throughout the world, we must not lose it,” said Mr Anract.

Those comments were made before he went to the Elysée on Friday to join the head of state and fellow master bakers and munch on galette des rois, or king’s cake.

Now, with Mr Macron’s declared support, the bid for UNESCO status is likely to begin in earnest.

But it could be some time before the humble baguette joins the heritage list, which already includes France’s traditional “gastronomic meal”, in which ritual is deemed as important as the food itself.

It took almost a decade for Naples’s pizzas to be recognised.

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