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Five reasons the Bake Off is better in France than in Britain

So yes, Great Britain invented the Great British Bake Off. And so successful has the show been that the format has been sold to 196 different territories - including France.

Five reasons the Bake Off is better in France than in Britain
Do you want your croquembouche challenges supersized? Photo: AFP
In France it is called Le Meilleur Pâtissier (the best baker) and it's, well, just better than the British original. So with the ninth series underway in France (where it's pulling in 2.5 million viewers a week), here's why you should switch to French bakers.
 
1. It's longer
If some cake is good, more cake is better, right? While the British show coasts in at around an hour, the French version is two hours long if you watch it straight through online, or two-and-a-half if you watch it on TV with ad breaks.
 

 
 
The format is basically the same – each week the bakers create a signature challenge, a technical challenge from a recipe they have never seen before and a showstopper or creative challenge.
 
But the distinctly leisurely pace of the French show allows for more chatting, plus loads of clips of the contestants going about their everyday lives, jobs and explaining what baking means to them (it's their life, usually).
 
Mercotte aka the French Mary Berry. Photo: M6
 
2. It's harder
The challenges on the British show have definitely got more difficult since the relatively benign early days when they simply had to bake a cake, but the French show is at a whole new level. By week two the (amateur) bakers are creating a life sized replica of Versailles out of choux buns.
 
OK that's a slight exaggeration, but some of the challenges are frankly insane (such as creating a Breton tower out of 60 crêpes and some caramel). 
 
3. It's ruder
The French version is very much post-watershed. Broadcast by commercial channel M6 there's no fannying about bleeping out swear words here. In fact if you really want to learn how to swear properly in French simply tune in and wait for the baker whose cake fails to rise, who drops their pastry cases or who spills molten sugar on themselves.
 
There's also a distinct acknowledgement that the audience are adults – every series includes a 50 nuances de crème (50 shades of cream) week. The results are usually hilariously horrifying, proving that erotica and baking really should never mix.
 
Below is a technical challenge from 50 shades week – nipples of Venus cakes. The contestants' versions of these mostly looked like Dr Frankenstein had taken up breast augmentation surgery.
 

 
 
Cyril Lignac. Less annoying than Paul Hollywood. Photo: AFP
 
4. It's got Cyril Lignac's face
The judges on the French version are Mercotte (one name only, like Madonna) a food critic and author who has been writing cookbooks since 1987 and Michelin starred chef Cyril Lignac.
 
While Mercotte is essentially Mary Berry with added Frenchness, Cyril brings a whole new dimension to judging. Rather than being known for his annoying 'Hollywood handshakes' Cyril's USP is the bizarre faces he pulls while tasting. Many, varied and strange, they also offer no clue at all as to whether the cake is delicious or terrible. All adds to the drama.
 
5. It has better animals
Creating a giant and slightly impractical tent in the middle of a country estate has been faithfully copied from the British show, as have the cut-away shots to cute animals to indicate the passing of time.
 
But while the surroundings of the UK tent are populated with nothing more exotic than a few birds and lambs (and on one memorable occasion in 2011 a squirrel with an enormous pair of knackers) the French show ups the ante quite dramatically. It appears to have shipped the entire contents of a petting zoo to the grounds of the various châteaux where it has been located. On breaks from baking, the contestants are frequently seen sitting alongside peacocks, ponies and penguins. 
 
If you're convinced, the show is on Wednesday nights from 9.05pm on channel M6 or all episodes are available for catch up (in all countries) on www.6play.fr
 
French vocab
À vos marques… prêts . . . pâtissez – On your marks . . . ready . . . bake.
Un biscuit – slightly confusingly, can be a biscuit or a sponge cake, as in biscuit Génoise or a Genoese sponge
Epreuve – challenge (as in épreuve technique or technical challenge)
Tablier bleu – blue apron (given to the best baker each week)
Vainquer – winner
Putain – what you say when you drop your gingerbread model of the Eiffel Tower with three minutes to go until judging time.

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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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