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FOOD & DRINK

Why in the land of haute cuisine, do the French have such an appetite for pizza?

The French regularly challenge Americans as the world's biggest scoffers of pizzas but why in the land of haute cuisine and great gastronomy do they eat so much of it? Here are a few reasons.

Why in the land of haute cuisine, do the French have such an appetite for pizza?
Photo: AFP

Ever noticed how much the French love pizza? The pizzerias, the food trucks, the take away joints (not to mention the pizzas in the supermarket aisles) are everywhere in France, a country that has so much of its own fine cuisine.

A look at the numbers reveals just how much the French love their pizza.

In 2015 the French ate a stomach-churning 819 million pizzas – that's around 26 per second each year. That's ten million more than the 809 million they scoffed in 2014. 

To put the French appetite for pizzas in context, they scoff around 10kg of pizza per head every year, that's enough to put them second in the world league table, just behind the 13kg of pizza digested by Americans each year. And the French are well ahead of the Italians, the inventors of pizza, who were in 10th place for eating 5kg on average per person each year.

Some 96 percent of French people declare a love for pizza – their favourie being the Reine – (tomato sauce, ham, cheese and mushrooms) followed by the margherita and 84 percent order pizzas at home.

There are some 13,000 pizzerias in France and 5,000 pizza food trucks. Not to mention the automatic pizza dispensers (see below) that are dotted around the country that means the French can satisfy their pizza appetite at all hours of the night.

Here are at least a few reasons why the French are so ready to forgo any other meal and grab a slice.

Comfort eating

Pizza is the number one comfort food for the French according to a 2018 Harris Interactive survey. The study states more than 8 out of 10 French people eat to comfort themselves when they feel depressed. Of those 8 out of 10, 34 percent said pizza is their go-to dish to ease the blues. Hamburgers and fries come in a close second at 28 percent, followed by pasta at 25 percent.

A contrast

It’s official, the French take the most time eating and drinking compared to other countries a new survey revealed.

So if it's the norm is to sit down, and spend hours chatting and slowly eating every bite, grabbing a pizza and throwing it in the oven might sound pretty tempting every once in a while. In other words pizza is a switch from the usual Gallic dining routine.

Bernard Boutboul, director of Gira Conseil, believes one of the reasons the French love pizza is because it contrasts to the traditional meal time setting French people are used to.

But pizza also fits in perfectly well with another French trait, he said.

“It's a dish which you share, which fits in with our culture based on conviviality,” Boutboul explained, adding that dough or bread-based foods topped with a choice of ingredients “always work very well”.

It's cheap

While eating out is not necessarily overly expensive in France, even in Paris, there's no doubt that pizza is generally a cheaper option and attractive to those on a tight budget. 

The average price of a pizza in France is €6.15, according to a 2017 Gira Conseil study, which means you get to be full and have a tasty meal. That price takes into account the price of pizzas sold in supermarkets as well as those in restaurants.

In recent years France has seen a real price war for takeaway pizzas with the average price falling from €12 to €10 in just the last year.

It’s a long-term relationship

Carole Saturno, a journalist and cookbook writer in Paris explained to The Local the success of Italian cuisine in general in France.

Referring to research by Paris-based academic Daniele Zappalà, geographer, who studied the Italian cuisine in France Saturno that over history Italian cuisine became popular in France with the increased trade and immigration.

So pizza has always been beloved in France, but overtime marketing has helped expand the popularity of the iconic Italian dish.

Luckily, France’s long and loving relationship with pizza has also lead to some mouthwatering pizzerias.

Saturno told The Local to visit Popine, Da Graziella and Il Brigante, and Pizzeria Popolare in Paris for the unbeatable value for money of the margherita.

(Photo: Bex Walton/Flickr)

It’s science, and it’s the cheese

According to the Yale Food Addiction Scale, pizza is at the very top of the addiction scale. And it's all because of the cheese.

The study found that the foods most likely to be associated with addictive eating behaviors were the more fatty, processed foods.

But cheese has a particular ingredient that makes it more addictive, a protein found in all milk products called casein.

This protein releases opiates called casomorphins during digestion, and casomorphins stimulate the dopamine receptors that eventually drive the addictive behavior.

And who eats the most cheese in the world? The French. France has the highest per capita consumption rate of cheese, with 26.8 kg of cheese consumed in 2015.

So having an addiction for fromage is naturally going to push the French towards ordering a cheese and tomato pizza.

by Courtney Anderson

For members

FOOD & DRINK

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!

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