France's bakers seek UNESCO recognition for the humble baguette

French freshly-baked baguettes cool after their removal from an oven at "La Parisienne" bakery in Paris, France, February 17, 2021. Picture taken on February 17, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

PARIS (Reuters) - The baguette - a mix of wheat flour, water, yeast, salt and a pinch of savoir-faire and as much a symbol of France as the Eiffel Tower - may soon join UNESCO's listing of cultural treasures.

Bakers say the traditional craft loaf, whose purchase from the local bakery has for decades been a ritual in French daily life, is being pushed off shop shelves, even in France, by frozen bread sticks made on giant assembly lines.

"There's not one single secret to making a good traditional baguette," said Mickael Reydellet, owner of eight bakeries. "It requires time, a savoir-faire, the right way of baking, good flour without additives."

The Confederation of French Bakers has submitted its application to be added to the U.N. rankings of intangible treasures.

The baguette finds itself up against two rivals for the French bid: The zinc-plated rooftops of Paris and the Jura region's Biou d’Arbois wine festival. France's culture minister will make her recommendation to the president in March.

Bakers say the UNESCO listing would protect a know-how that has passed through generations and shield the baguette from imposters around the world.

The UNESCO "intangible heritage" marker - meant to recognise oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and methods of traditional craftsmanship - already covers ancient methods of making flat breads in Iran and Kazakhstan.

The craft behind 1,500 or more beers brewed in Belgium has been recognised, as has the Neapolitan art of pizza twirling.

A 1993 French government decree dictates that "traditional" baguettes must be made from nothing more than the four classic ingredients. Fermentation of the dough should last 15 to 20 hours in a temperature between 4 to 6 degrees Celsius.

France's boulangeries have been hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions over the past year. Reydellet said: "This title would comfort bakers and encourage the next generation."

About 6 million baguettes are sold daily in France. But Dominique Anract, president of the bakers' federation said the cultural habit was under threat, with some 30,000 bakeries closing since the 1950s as supermarkets took over.

"The first errand we ask of a child is to go buy a baguette from a bakery." Anract said. "We owe it to ourselves to protect these habits."

(Reporting by Noemie Olive; Writing by Ardee Napolitano; Editing by Richard Lough and Janet Lawrence)

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