French baguette conquers new markets

The popularity of the French baguette is not just limited to France. The long thin loafs are proving a winner around the world and continue to conquer new markets.

French baguette conquers new markets
French baguettes are winning over emerging markets. Photo: Jarkko Laine/Flickr

The perfect baguette has long been the ultimate test for aspiring bakers the world over.

And now the ability to produce this long, thin loaf is in global demand because the appetite for baked delights from France is surging in regions with burgeoning middle classes – notably Asia and the Middle East.

"The growth is linked to lifestyle changes, and more broadly to the emergence of middle classes," says Christophe Monnier, an expert at the Ubifrance agency which helps French companies set up overseas.

Forget the timeworn caricature of the Frenchman in black beret and blue overalls with a baguette tucked under his arm: French baked goods are in, and they are taking the world by storm.

The numbers speak for themselves. From 2003 to 2013, French exports of dough and mixes for baked goods more than doubled, from €197 million to €480 million ($600 million).

Finished baked goods, which end up being sold in French restaurant chains or hotels abroad, have leapt from €850 million worth to 1.5 billion during the same period.

The growth has been spectacular in some markets, with exports to China soaring 7,800 percent over the past decade.

The bakery sector "is undeniably the spearhead for the (French) food sector" abroad, Monnier said.

Chains have opened locations across the globe to cultivate the craving for French baked goods.

Brioche Doree, which calls itself the world's leading French-style fast-food chain, now boasts more than 500 restaurants worldwide.

Another, Delifrance, has several hundred locations abroad, including more than 200 across Asia.

But France's small-scale bakery tradition, which is still vibrant at home, has also ventured abroad.

But baguettes cannot conquer the world without trained bakers, and the National Bakery and Pastry Institute (INPB) in Rouen is trying to meet that need.

While a group of students from a number of countries tries to assemble a Saint-Honore — an elaborate concoction involving cream puffs and caramel glaze — the Institute's director Jean-Francois Astier said there is ample foreign interest in their training programme.

And in addition to the foreign students who make up 15 percent of the INBP's professional trainees, "a small majority of the French students… want to go overseas."

Alexandre Matcheret, 47, is one Frenchman who left to try his luck abroad.

He has just opened two Kayser boutiques in Cambodia, and is excited about the potential.

"Bread is already in their culture, but it is not the same process, it is very industrial," Matcheret said.
And what is the secret of the perfect baguette?

Denis Fatet, who coordinates training at the INBP, defined the ultimate test of the baker's skills, this way: "The baguette is made with no additives, and it must not be frozen.

"Its crust must be crisp, with a beautiful golden colour. The doughy part, cream-coloured, has irregular holes, and melts in the mouth."

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Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!