Last month, the emblematic French Baguette was added to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage by Uneseco, bringing France’s recorded number of cultural elements up to 25, including the Gastronomic Meal of the French, perfume making in Grasse, the Carnival of Granville and Summer Solstice Fire Festivals in the Pyrenees.
Intangible cultural heritage is a practice, representation, expression, knowledge or skill considered by Unesco to be part of a place’s cultural heritage. It is those things we cannot see or touch but which represent a culture’s essence, such as its folklore, customs, beliefs, traditions, knowledge and languages. Thus, the latest listing more specifically distinguishes the Artisanal Know-how and Culture of Baguette Bread, rather than baguettes themselves.
The entry notes that the baguette is the most popular kind of bread enjoyed and consumed in France throughout the year. Made with only four ingredients (flour, water, salt, leaven and/or yeast), its crisp crust and chewy texture “result in a specific sensory experience” and they are consumed all over the country in a variety of contexts. But even though baguettes all over are made with those same four ingredients, it is the vital fifth ingredient, the baker’s savoir-faire, that will distinguish one boulangerie’s baguette and another’s.
Ironically, the baguette is a relatively recent addition to France’s culinary repertoire. Although long, thin loaves have been made since the time of King Louis XIV, the form we all know and love today was only properly recognised in 1920. In the 18th century, these humble loaves, with their high crust to crumb (the doughy white inside) ratio, were actually criticised as pandering too much to Parisians and their love of crust. But time and the crust eventually won out, and the baguette finally made it to France’s provinces during the early 20th century, thereby guaranteeing its places in French stomachs and hearts.