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Why the French Galette des Rois is getting more expensive

At this time of year, there is nothing the French love more than to serve up a nice Galette des Rois. Unfortunately though a multitude of factors mean that this speciality is much more expensive in 2022.

A French Galette des Rois is typically served at this time of year.
A French Galette des Rois is typically served at this time of year. Unfortunately, the price is rising. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

Many people in France enjoy a Galette des Rois around this time of year. 

If you’re not familiar with the dish, it is basically a frangipane tart made with pastry, butter, ground almonds and a few extra ingredients that will stretch the already bursting waistline for one final time before the January dieting begins.

It is traditionally served on Epiphany – a Christian festival celebrated on January 6th and has many fun traditions attached.

READ ALSO Galette des rois: What you need to know about France’s royal tart

Aficionados will have noticed that the price of these cholesterol bombs has shot up since last year, in some cases, by as much as €2. 

The reason for this inflation are rising butter prices. 

The Eurex derivatives market showed that one tonne of butter cost €4,600 in October and is now close to €6,000. Even though prices are still a fair way off the great butter crisis of 2017 when prices reached close to €7,000 per tonne, bakeries are still struggling and this has a knock-on effect on consumers.

So what is driving these increased prices? 

There are multiple factors, essentially boiling down to supply and demand, that mean the price of butter is increasing. 

Demand is higher than ever before, not just in France, but internationally. A quarter of butter produced in France is exported to other EU countries. And China imported 20 percent more butter from the European Union in 2021 than the year before. 

Supply is struggling to keep up. Many dairy farmers prefer to use milk for cheese production as it is more profitable. As much as 30 percent of dairy production in France ends up being used for pizzas or as hamburger cheese to be sold in shops and restaurants. 

The spring and summer of 2021 was also unseasonably cold and rainy meaning that there was not enough good quality hay for cows to eat, resulting in lower milk production. Overall, last year saw a 2 percent fall in overall milk production in France compared to the year before. 

Read More France faces Christmas cheese shortage

Another factor is that despite enormous government subsidies, the agricultural sector in France is struggling. Over the past for years, the number of dairy cows has decreased by around 250,000. 

All of this has seen the price of butter, a key ingredient of Galette des Rois, soar. 

Does this mean other products will become more expensive? 

Logically, it would follow that other products where butter is a key ingredient, such as croissants, will become more expensive. This was certainly the case during the butter shortage of 2017 – although the crisis then was deeper than the current one. 

If you haven’t already felt the price of goods at the boulangerie increase, it could be because bakers are often aware of upcoming shortfalls. 

“We heard about the rise [of butter prices] in September, so we decided to stock up. I bought two times more butter than normal,” said Bruno Struillou, a baker in Plobannalec-Lesconil. 

“If we manage to sell lots of Galettes in January, let’s say 10 percent more than normal, that will compensate the price rises. Otherwise, we will have to increase the price a little bit on other buttery products in February and March,” he told France Bleu

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Fears for 2022 French wine vintages because of ‘stressed grapes’

Forced to start picking grapes much earlier than normal because of torrid temperatures, winemakers across France are worrying that grape quality will suffer from the climate-induced stress.

Fears for 2022 French wine vintages because of 'stressed grapes'

The exceptionally dry conditions spread from the rugged hills of Herault along the Mediterranean, where picking is already underway, to the normally verdant Alsace in the northeast.

Waves of extreme heat this summer accelerated grape maturation, meaning harvests had to begin one to three weeks early or more — in Languedoc-Roussillon, some growers even started in late July.

“We were all a bit surprised, they began maturing very rapidly these past few days,” said Francois Capdellayre, president of the Dom Brial cooperative in Baixas, outside Perpignan.

He said the shears came out on August 3 for the region’s typical muscat grapes, followed by chardonnay and grenache blanc.

“In more than 30 years I’ve never started my harvests on August 9,” said Jerome Despey, a vineyard owner in the Herault department.

Stressed out

Like other farmers, French winegrowers have been grappling for years with increasingly common extreme weather including spring freezes, devastating hailstorms and unseasonably heavy rains.

But this summer’s combination of a historic drought — July was the driest month on record since 1961 — and high temperatures are taking a particular toll on vineyards.

READ MORE: French AOP cheese the latest victim of France’s drought

Only 10 percent of France’s winegrowing parcels use artificial irrigation systems, which can be difficult or prohibitively expensive to install.

And while grape vines are more hardy than many other crops, with roots that descend deep into the ground over years of growth, even they can withstand only so much.

When water is scarce, the vines suffer “hydric stress” and protect themselves by shedding leaves and no longer providing nutrients to grapes, stunting their growth.

In Alsace, “we haven’t had a drop of rain in two months,” said Gilles Ehrhart, president of the AVA growers’ association.

“We’re going to have a very, very small harvest” after picking begins around August 26, he said.

And when temperatures surpass 38C, “the grape burns — it dries up, loses volume and quality suffers” because the resulting alcohol content “is too high for consumers,” said Pierre Champetier, president of the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for the Ardeche region south of Lyon.

Champetier began harvesting Monday, when “40 years ago, we started around September 20,” he said.

Now he worries that global warming will make such premature harvests “normal.”

Quality at risk

Some winemakers are still holding off in hopes of rain in coming weeks, such as red grape producers in Herault, where harvests should begin as usual in early September.

In Burgundy, which two years ago saw its earliest harvest debut — August 16 — in more than four centuries of keeping track, picking will start at cellars in Saone-et-Loire around August 25.

READ MORE: Ask the expert: Why is France’s drought so bad and what will happen next?

But just south in the Rhone Valley, “the heatwave has accelerated maturation by more than 20 days compared to last year,” according to the Inter-Rhone producers’ association.

They nevertheless hope grape quality will hold up, as do Champagne growers in the northeast, where harvesting will begin late August — though yields are set to fall nine percent year-on-year because of a brutal spring cold snap and hailstorms.

Bordeaux plans to kick off on August 17 with the grapes for the region’s sparkling wines — appreciated by connoisseurs but just one percent of overall production.

Next will come “dry whites, sweet whites and then the reds,” said Christophe Chateau of the CIVB producers’ group, though the precise dates will be set only next week.

But he warned that even rainfall from storms forecast across France starting this weekend will “not be enough” to ensure a “beautiful vintage.”

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