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Culture

Pizza envy - Macron wants France's baguette on Unesco heritage list

media Baguettes in a bakery in Nantes, western France REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

The baguette - usually known in the English-speaking world as "French bread" - should be placed on the UN's world heritage list, President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday, saying pizza's inclusion last year had set a precedent.

A cartoonist's archetypal Frenchman is wearing a beret and clutching a bottle of wine, a smelly cheese and a baguette.

The president, although he generally eschews a beret, seemed happy, even proud, to embrace this image on Friday when he told Europe 1 radio, "France is a country of excellence in bread because the baguette is envied throughout the entire world."

The "excellence and expertise" that go into making the long loaf must be preserved by being placed on the "intangible heritage" list of the UN's Paris-based cultural arm, Unesco, he declared.

He also namechecked the baguette's very tangible ingredients - flour, salt, water and yeast - although they are not so differeent from those of most other European breads.

The French eat their daily bread "morning, midday and evening", Macron insisted, although consumption has fallen from 1950's one baguette per person per day and France's urban centres have not been immune to the contemporary anti-gluten trend.

Pizza the action

Macron was speaking after meeting a group of French master bakers for another French tradition, which has yet to be brought to Unesco's attention - the serving of a "galette des rois", a puff pastry and frangipane pie, on the Christian festival of Epiphany.

He was echoing a call by the head of the national bakery confederation, Dominique Anract, who earlier said the loaf is as much a symbol of France as the Eiffel Tower.

French bakers' appetite for heritage status seems to have been whetted by the inclusion of Naples's pizza-making techniques on Unesco's list.

"I know our bakers, they saw the Neapolitans succeed in getting their pizza classified under Unesco world heritage and they said 'Why not the baguette?' and they're right!" Macron commented.

The UN body could reply that it has already done enough to assuage France's culinary pride by placing French gastronomy in its entirety on the intangible heritage list in 2010.

Tradition not that old

Macron is not the first French politician to take bread seriously.

In 1993 Prime Minister Edouard Balladur's government issued a decree whose aim was to protect bakers from the onslaught of supermarkets.

It limited the amount of additives that can be used in loaves sold as "French traditional bread" and ruled that they must not have been frozen before sale.

But the tradition is not quite as ancient as many believe.

White flour, which is most often used in the baguette, only became widespread during the shortages in World War II.

And, although one theory dates it back to the Napoleonic wars and another to the construction of the Paris métro, the baguette in its present form seems to have developed in the capital in the 1920s as a new kind of oven was introduced and a law banned work in bakeries before 4.00am, making a shorter bake necessary.

There are currently 33,000 bakeries in France, according to Anract.

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