In the global imagination, French people will probably forever be depicted wearing a beret and carrying a baguette — which might explain why the country submitted its most famous bread as its candidate for UNESCO intangible cultural heritage status on Friday.
France's Ministry for Culture said in a statement that it had chosen the baguette over the zinc roofs of Paris and the Biou d'Arbois, a wine festival in the Jura region, to protect the traditional savoir-faire behind this ubiquitous French product.
According to the ministry, there were 55,000 independent bakeries across the country in 1970 but only 35,000 today, "often to the benefit of industrially produced baguettes".
"The protection measures envisaged, including the implementation of awareness-raising actions aimed at the general public, aim to slow down this decline by highlighting this artisanal sector," the ministry said.
A baguette is a long loaf made from only four ingredients: flour, water, salt, yeast or leaven. It must have a crispy crust and a soft, honeycombed crumb, when it is made according to the rules.
Its origin dates back to the 17th century but its consumption really took off in the 20th. Nowadays, about 320 baguettes are eaten every second in France, amounting to an annual consumption of about 10 billion, according to data site Planetoscope.
The National Confederation of French Bakeries and Patisseries welcomed the announcement.
"After four years of work, it is with great pride that our submission has been chosen," its president, Dominique Anract, said.
"This enhances our know-how and can encourage young people to choose the profession" because there are many jobs to be filled in the bakery," he noted.
They will have to wait until late 2022 for the UNESCO decision.