French pastries, like croissants and pains au chocolat, along with their core ingredient – butter – have taken the world by storm to the point that France is now experiencing a shortage of the dairy product, leaving bakers and consumers worried.
At the weekend, French daily newspaper Le Figaro published a long how-to piece on baking and cooking without butter. The article was emblematic of France’s current butter crisis, where demand has overtaken supply, resulting in the price of the dairy product skyrocketing by 60 percent in one year and dairy sections of some supermarkets screaming empty.
Although industry experts say the shortage is partly due to the decrease in French milk production following a European-wide drop in yields, the main reason actually comes on the back of an increased global appetite for French butter and the country’s famous “patisserie”. Butter constitutes up to one quarter of France’s beloved croissants, pains au chocolat and brioches.
“[Butter is] more and more in demand in emerging economies like China and the Middle East,” Dominique Charge, the head of the national cooperative of dairy products, told French radio station RTL.
For pastry dough maker Claude Margerin François, whose business is located in Cher, in central France, the shortage means she has not been able to meet her recent orders from countries like Lebanon, China and Vietnam.
“I’m looking for butter everywhere,” she was quoted as telling the Associated Press, adding that although she could have foregone the French butter for butter that had been made elsewhere, she chose not to because she worried it would affect the quality of her products.
“Just by smelling it I could tell it was not good enough,” she said.
Aside from not being able to meet all her orders, Claude François said the butter shortage has forced her to temporarily cut back on her staff’s working hours.
“Since mid-august we have limited deliveries. We just receive one tons per week when we actually need three [tons],” she said. “You won’t last a long with that.”
Already this summer, French bakers and pastry chefs warned that the country’s butter crisis could kill off, or at least make French pastry very, very expensive, unless the trend is broken somehow.
“Even before the summer I had to increase the price on croissants by €0.05,” Thierry Lucas, a baker in Finistère in Normandy, told AFP.
If the trend continues, bakers say, it could pose serious problems at the end of the year, in the production of traditional French Christmas pastries.