Fad for wholemeal carves up traditional Paris baguette

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The Independent Online
THE BAGUETTE, one of the cliche symbols of France, is in gentle but unmistakable decline, squeezed between a youthful taste for wholemeal bread and the rise of the factory-made bread stick.

These were the depressing conclusions of a survey of the bread-eating habits of the French, published by the newspaper Le Figaro, yesterday. Although 80 per cent of the bread eaten in France still comes in the shape of long, slender, white loaves, there has been a rapid decline in the sales of true baguettes (and their larger sisters, pains) in recent years.

Starting from zero 19 years ago, the sales of cheaper, factory-made, chemically-assisted baguettes have risen to 30 per cent of the market. Such bread is cheaper - only 30p to 40p a baguette - but spongy and tasteless compared with the crisp, fresh, hand-made loaves for which France is celebrated (costing 40p to pounds 1 a piece).

Another menacing trend has also been identified. People in their twenties and thirties are turning away from baguettes of all kinds towards wholemeal, longer-lasting bread. In the eyes of such people, Le Figaro concludes, the baguette is a symbol of an "outdated, caricature France, comparable to the beret and the pitcher of cheap, red wine".

In truth, history is coming full circle. The baguette is a relatively recent invention of urban bakers in the 1920s and 1930s. The traditional French bread of the 18th and 19th centuries, the shortage of which Queen Marie Antoinette apocryphally dismissed ("Let them eat cake"), was like the flat, wholemeal loaves now favoured by the fashionable young.

Sixty years is long enough to create a tradition, however. Bakers who make their own baguettes by the old methods - long fermentation of the dough, followed by baking in brick ovens - want the government to ban the use of the title "boulangerie" by the shops that simply warm up ready- mixed, factory-made dough. Such a rule was imposed in 1995 but overturned on appeal.

Rene Saint-Ouen, frequent winner of the award for the best baguettes in France, baked at his shop on the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris, said: "Industrial baguettes are the negation of true bread. They taste like nothing and disgust the consumer."