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FOOD & DRINK

Is France’s famous LU Petit Beurre biscuit under threat?

France's famous Petit Beurre biscuits are facing an uncertain future after money troubles and industrial unrest at the factory where they are made.

Is France's famous LU Petit Beurre biscuit under threat?
The LU factory in Nantes. Photo: AFP

The highly popular biscuit – with its oblong shape, 52 teeth and optional slab of chocolate on one side – has been a favourite in French households since it was first put into production in 1846.

But now its future is in doubt after a string of troubles at the factory in La Haye-Fouassière, near Nantes, where they are produced.

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French newspaper Le Figaro reported a decrease in production volumes, from 45,000 tonnes in 2014 to 31,000 tonnes today.

The number of employees has fallen from 500 to 330, according to figures from the trade union CGT, which also warns of the loss of around 15 jobs by 2020.

And this week the factory's troubles intensified with calls for strike action over the dismissal of a long-serving employee.

The American agri-food group Mondelez, which has owned LU since 2007, says the dismissal is due to repeated health and safety breaches, but this has been challenged by union officials, who have spoken of a tense atmosphere at the factory.

The biscuits have been a staple treat for many since childhood since they were first created by Louis Lefèvre-Utile in his parents' biscuit company.

The classic Petit Beurre range was later expanded with the addition of dark or milk chocolate with the figure of the petit ecolier (little schoolboy) that has become the emblem of the brand.

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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!

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