PARIS — It’s more French than perhaps the Eiffel Tower or Seine. Millions carry it every day on their backs or under arms. It is the baguette that has been a key part of French identity and the pace of life for decades.
Wednesday saw the United Nations Heritage Agency UNESCO name the baguette a “intangible cultural legacy” and add it to its high-ranking list.
It was more than just a decision about bread making — it honored a way that bread has always symbolized, and that is now under threat due to economic downturns. UNESCO chose to make this decision as boulangeries disappear, hampered by economic forces such the slow hollowing out French villages, and as Europe’s economic crisis has pushed up the price of baguettes.
Dominique Anract, president of the National Federation of French Bakeries and Patisseries and the leader of the effort to include the baguette in the UNESCO Heritage List, stated, “It is a good news, in a complicated atmosphere.”
Mr. Anract stated that “When a baby chops his teeth, his parent gives him a stump baguette to chew on.” “When a child is grown up, the first thing he does alone is to buy baguettes at the bakery.”
French officials celebrated Wednesday’s announcement in Rabat (Morocco) in French style by waving baguettes to trade “la bise” — the traditional French two-fingered kisses for each cheek.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron reacted to the news and described the baguette on twitter “250 grams magic and perfection in daily life.” He also attached a famous French photo Willy Ronis showing a smiling boy with a baguette tucked under his arm.
The baguette, though it’s only one bread that you will find in a typical bakery, is the most widely consumed bread in France. According to the federation more than six million bags of baguettes are sold annually in France for an average cost of around 1 euro. (Until 1986, the price was fixed.
Baguette has been the heart of French life since the dawn of time. It was the scent of bread baking that wafted through the neighborhoods, and it was then that people ate the hot “tradition” while commuting home at night.
Urban legends revolve around the creation of the baguette. According to some urban legends, Napoleon’s bakers invented it as a lighter loaf to take with him to battle; Parisian bakery workers made it rippable to stop knife fighting between rival factions while building the city’s subway system.
Historians claim that the bread evolved gradually. In fact, in 1600, French bakers were already producing elongated loaves. It was initially considered a bread for Parisians in better circumstances who could afford to purchase a product that would go stale quickly. The baguette, which Bruno Laurioux, an expert in medieval food history, stated that it became a staple in French rural life only after World War II.
However, it wasn’t the French who first tied the baguette with French identity.
Mr. Laurioux was the leader of the academic committee responsible for the pitch of baguettes to UNESCO. “It was an outsiders’ view that tied France’s identity to the baguette.”
The French have accepted it since then and hold an annual competition outside Paris’ Notre-Dame cathedral to find the best bread maker. The Elysee Palace president lives in Paris and is a part of the winning team.
The ingredients for a baguette only include flour, water and salt. special yeasts were designed to stimulate the bread’s long fermentation stage. To achieve the golden color, special knives are used to score the bread’s surfaces. Finally, long-handled wooden paddles are used for gently removing the bread from the ovens. Baguettes can be eaten fresh so most boulangeries will make several batches per day.
Steven Kaplan (an American-French historian) was the most prominent and famous chronicler of baguette history. Conan O’Brien, a talk-show host, stunned him when he spoke about the “appealing” line, “geyser” of aromas and air pockets that make a baguette “testify” to a sense of sensuality.
France submitted more 200 endorsements for baguette’s UNESCO bid. This included letters from bakers, children’s drawing and letters. Cecile Piot (a baker) wrote the following testimonial poem: “Im here / Warmly light, magical/ Under your arm, in your basket/ Let’s give rhythm / To any day of idleness, or work.”
The list fellow winners reads almost like a cultural tour through the world. This includes mansaf , a traditional dish made of mutton in Jordan and rice from Jordan. Winter bear festivals are held in Pyrenean villages. Kun Lbokator is Cambodia’s traditional martial art.
French officials announced plans to establish a Bakehouse Open Day, to increase the “prestige of the artisanal knowhow required to produce baguettes”, and to support new scholarships for bakers and training programs.
However, the baguette remains in peril. The country has lost 400 artisanal bakery every year since 1970. This decline is more severe in France’s rural areas. There, supermarkets and chain bakeries have overtaken mom-and-pop shops.
The worst part — and a sting to French pride — is that hamburger sales since 2017 have exceeded those jamboneurre, which are sandwiches made with ham and a buttered baguette.
Some Parisian bakers expressed doubt that Wednesday’s news would ease their most pressing fear, that wheat and flour costs would continue rising due to Russia’s war with Ukraine. They were forced to raise the price for the beloved bread sticks.
Pascale Giuseppi stated that “this UNESCO recognition does not help us get though the winter.” She worked behind the counter of her bakery, near the Champs Elysees, and served baguette sandwiches to a rush. “We still need to pay bigger bills.”
Jean-Luc Aussant a neighbor said he was not in the mood to celebrate any holiday and, as he brushed flour off his fingers, grumbled about how recognition would change nothing.
He added, “Now that you think about it,” “I might use this to increase the cost of my baguette.”