The Baguette, a “Made in France” icon among French bread27-09-2017
Soft, crusty, golden and full of flavour, the baguette with its moist inside and crunchy crust is a powerful symbol of France.
To really come to terms with the popularity of the French baguette, it’s worth going back in time. In the 18th century, the vast majority of French bread was round in shape with a grey crumb, and made up 98% of the daily diet of the population, and a vast 1.5kg consumed per person every day. When the first alternative rivals to the cob arrived on the scene, it was a shock to say the least. The baguette was considered to be a “mythical” bread, only available to the aristocracy. In its early beginnings, the baguette was 40cm long and weighed 300g, compared to its current dimensions of 80cm and 250g respectively. Effectively the preserve of the city, it took some time for the baguette to be accepted in rural areas, where farmers preferred their bread to be more substantial and longer-lasting.
Over time, the baguette has become a core staple of the French diet. Served at mealtimes at family dining-tables throughout France, it’s not unusual for the lucky family member in charge of fetching the bread to be caught biting the end off on the way home. Unsurprisingly, the French are by far the world’s greatest consumers of the baguette.
320 baguettes are eaten every second in France; that’s on average half a baguette per person per day, and 10 billion in total consumed every year (Source : Observatoire du pain). It’s a statistic bound to fuel the curiosity of non-French observers who are often intrigued by France’s fascination for this special bread.
Is there really an ideal baguette ?
With so many types of baguettes on offer including “rustique”, “campagnarde”, “forestière” or “ficelée”, it’s not surprising that the French often don’t know which baguette to turn to. Finding your ideal baguette is all down to feelings. The best baguette according to Thierry Marx, the eminent French chef who recently opened his first boulangerie in Paris, is not something he will ever forget. “First of all, it is important to scrutinise the bread’s appearance and texture. Not too crunchy on the outside, with a honeycomb texture on the inside and full of flavour that lingers on the palate.” Explains the chef from the Mandarin Oriental in Paris. Every French child and grown-up will have their own routine in their favourite boulangerie where they tasted their first baguette, which is often the best. The taste of the first baguette lingers forever, as does the memory of the best. “Baguettes from Bernard GANACHAUD’s boulangerie encapsulate my entire childhood” recalls Thierry Marx, as if it were yesterday. “I can still remember the smells emanating from the shop. They baked bread three times every day, and the smells pervaded the entire street.” Today France has more than 30,000 boulangeries across the country.
The most popular : the traditional baguette
Out of thousands of boulangeries, a few have managed to stand out from the rest with their superior quality. Such is the case of La Fournée, a boulangerie with around 10 employees, located in Brest (Finastère), where chief boulanger Ludovic Beaumont is at the stoves. Originally from Picardy, and more inclined towards cake than bread, Beaumont has become a master of the baguette. “I love bread, and I love competitions just as much” he launches by way of an introduction. Interestingly, competitions seem to like him too. Winner of the best croissant and the best galette des rois in Finestere two years on the trot, in 2016 he decided to go the whole hog. “I decided to take part in the departmental competition for the best traditional baguette, and I came 5th” he explained, unable to surpress a trace of disappointment. Qualifying for the regional competition, which he went on to win, Ludovic Beaumont then headed for Paris to compete in the national final at the end of 2016 at the Parvis Notre Dame. “I practised three times a week for three weeks to make the most perfect 40 baguettes possible” he recalls. The practice evidently paid off as with the support of his team, he carried off the title of “Best traditional baguette in France 2016”.
In a country where the traditional-style baguette has become the go-to choice, accounting for a quarter of sales, this is a prestigious title, and a great achievement for this lover of bread, and of baguettes in particular, and there are plenty more like him in France. Competitions of this kind are a real institution in France, “best boulangerie”, “best baguette in Paris” and the list goes on. France likes to celebrate those who provide good bread, and they most certainly do.
And while France’s penchant for the baguette is undisputed, thankfully this has not deterred their attention to exports on a global scale. Countries including the UK, US and Japan are huge fans, together with former French colonies of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.