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Burgers triumph over baguettes in French fast food wars

Baguette lovers may be horrified to learn that in 2017, for the first time ever, hamburger sales were higher in France than the classic jambon-beurre sandwich.

Burgers triumph over baguettes in French fast food wars
Photo: AFP
American-style burgers were on the menu at 85 percent of restaurants in France last year, with a whopping 1.5 billion units sold, according to Paris-based restaurant consultants Gira Conseil.
 
The silver lining for foodies was the gradual demise of junk food, with good-quality, fresh alternatives on the rise.
   
Interestingly, fast food joints sold just 30 percent of burgers in France, with the majority sold at restaurants with full table service.
   
This is all big news for a country that takes great pride in its national culinary culture, and which for years resisted the global burger onslaught.
   
“We've been talking about a burger frenzy for three years. This year, we don't know how to describe the phenomenon. It's just crazy,” Gira Conseil director Bernard Boutboul told AFP.
 
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There was a nine percent jump in burger sales last year. “That's phenomenal growth,” Boutboul said.
   
In 2016, hamburger sales were on a par with the jambon-beurre, or ham-and-butter baguette — which is still the most popular sandwich in France.
 
“But in 2017, for the first time, (burgers) overtook (the French classic) by a long way,” Boutboul said, with jambon-beurre sales at 1.2 billion units.
   
“One wonders whether the burger might even overtake our famous steak frites in France,” he said.
 
'I sold my soul' 
   
There, Boutboul may have hit a nerve. While the French see their food culture as unique, the truth is a lot of it is based on meat, bread and potatoes — not a far cry from what makes up a US burger meal.
   
More broadly, fast food joint sales were “beating record upon record”, Gira Conseil found, making 51 billion euros ($63 billion) in 2017.
   
France is McDonald's most profitable market outside the US, with more than 1,400 restaurants.
   
The Golden Arches has adapted to French tastes with the McCamembert and the McBaguette with Emmental cheese, Dijon mustard, the various French salads and even macarons for dessert. Customers can also drink beer with their meals.
 
Why do the French love McDonald's so much?
Photo: AFP 
 
Jean-Pierre Petit, the man credited with helping France fall in love with “McDo”, is one of the brand's most influential executives, pioneering McDonald's attempts to adapt itself to local tastes.
   
In his 2013 book, “I Sold My Soul to McDonald's,”, Petit admitted that he had not eaten his first hamburger until he was 30.
   
In 2005 Frenchman Denis Hennequin, who introduced the Parmesan burger in Italy and the Shrimp Burger to Germany, became the first non-American to lead the McDonalds brand in Europe.
   
But a lot of the fast food that does best in France is high-quality — and fairly pricey.
   
“Even the Americans are keeping an eye on what we're doing in our gastronomic fast food sector,” Boutboul said.
 
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Why in the land of haute cuisine, do the French have such an appetite for pizza?Photo: AFP

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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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