With a fresh baguette and a wedge of cheese you can feel like a king for a couple of euros in any town in France. Remarkably consistent across the country (the recipe is standardised), la baguette is the most democratic of foods – as fitting alongside haute cuisine as it is under a smear of jam.
But low-carb diets, time-poor lifestyles and the rise of packaged breakfast cereals have taken their toll on consumption.
It’s hardly at extinction levels – the average French adult is still eating a half-baguette a day. But this compares to a whole one in 1970, and to three baguettes a day in 1900, according to this Daily Telegraph article.
The l’Observatoire du Pain, the French bread promotion group, has launched a huge campaign (7000 billboards) countering the anti-carb arguments with a “slow-burning carbs are good for you” message, and also that a fresh baguette at dinner is a simple way of showing your loved ones you have been thinking about them.
And why shouldn’t the French get emotionally roused about bread?
Bastille Day (this Sunday July 14) commemorates the people’s uprising against the aristocracy and monarchy in France. Bread is central to it. Through most of the 1700s the average worker spent half their wages on bread. A failure in the wheat crops in 1788 and 1789 pushed this up to 88%. Bread was life. [See this Smithsonian Mag piece on when food changed history.]
The French had been famous for their long thin loaves since at least the time of the French revolution, though the word baguette stems from the early 20th Century, and means baton or wand . The distinctive shape may be due to the seeking of a flavourful crust– the word croustillant refers to the crunch and flavour depth of the crust – and the baguette captures a high crust-to-crumb ratio. More history on the baguette can be found at the Chez Jim site.
Where to buy baguettes in Auckland
Auckland now has a number of fine purveyors of crunchy, chewy, burnished, bubbled baguettes so there’s really no reason to brandish a supermarket stick.
My pick is:
La Voie Française, 875 Dominion Road, Mt Roskill, ph (09) 620 5947. A baguette is $3.
(See review in The Denizen here).