French baguette given UNESCO cultural heritage status

France supporters in the stands eat baguettes before the FIFA World Cup Final at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow.
Traditional French baguettes are prized as a staple of life and culture in France. Credit: AP

The traditional French baguette has been given UNESCO heritage status.

The lengthy bread flute is a staple of French life and culture recognised around the world.

UNESCO experts gathering in Morocco this week decided that the baguette deserved UN recognition, after France’s culture ministry warned of a "continuous decline" in the number of traditional bakeries, with some 400 closing every year over the past half-century.

Despite the decline in traditional bakery numbers, France’s 67 million people still remain voracious baguette consumers, eating an estimated 10 billion a year.

The UN cultural agency’s chief, Audrey Azoulay, said the decision honours more than just bread and it recognises the “savoir-faire of artisanal bakers” and “a daily ritual.”

“It is important that these craft knowledge and social practices can continue to exist in the future,” added Azoulay, a former French culture minister.

Traditional French bakeries have been in decline for decades. Credit: AP

With the bread’s new status, the French government said it planned to create an artisanal baguette day, called the “Open Bakehouse Day,” to connect the French better with their heritage.

In France, bakers seemed proud, if unsurprised.

“Of course, it should be on the list because the baguette symbolises the world. It’s universal,” said Asma Farhat, baker at Julien’s Bakery near Paris’ Champs-Elysee avenue.

“If there’s no baguette, you can't have a proper meal. In the morning you can toast it, for lunch it’s a sandwich, and then it accompanies dinner.”

Traditional baguettes are being replaced by low quality mass produced loaves. Credit: AP

But increasingly these baguettes are low-quality factory-made loaves, not made with the usual love and care by a full-time baker.

"It’s very easy to get bad baguette in France. It’s the traditional baguette from the traditional bakery that’s in danger. It’s about quality not quantity," Paris resident Marine Fourchier said.

Although it seems like the quintessential French product, the baguette was said to have been invented by Vienna-born baker August Zang in 1839.

Zang put in place France’s steam oven, making it possible to produce bread with a brittle crust yet fluffy interior.

The product’s zenith did not arrive until the 1920s, with the advent of a French law preventing bakers from working before 4 am.

The baguette’s long, thin shape meant it could be made more quickly than its stodgy cousins, so it was the only bread that bakers could make in time for breakfast.

The "artisanal know-how and culture of baguette bread" was inscribed at the Morocco meeting among other global cultural heritage items, including Japan’s Furyu-odori ritual dances, and Cuba's light rum masters.

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