The LU petit beurre biscuit has long been a coffee time staple in France and includes secret details that would leave Dan Brown drooling.
Created in 1886 by Jean-Romain Lefèvre and his wife Pauline-Isabelle Utile, whose combined initials form the name ‘LU’, the biscuits have remained unchanged throughout their long history.
Mr Lefèvre took control of the Nantes cake-making business in 1846, and chose to copy the successful British model of Cadburys, using industrial methods to mass produce dry biscuits.
The company’s success was in large part due to that of the LU petit beurre biscuit.
Visitors to Nantes will have seen the cryptically named Lieu Unique, an intricately designed former factory turned cultural centre where Mr Lefèvre’s company made the biscuits until 1986.
The 38m tall tower, topped by an Art Nouveau dome adorned with six signs of the zodiac and sculpted eagles, offers an unrivalled view of Nantes city centre.
The arcane symbolism of the tower is also present on the biscuits, whose design, according to the manufacturer, is “an allegory for time”.
The deceptively simple design of the biscuits made of flour, water, butter and sugar includes:
- 52 bumps representing the weeks of the year
- 7 centimetres in length for the days of the week
- 24 holes for the hours of the day
- The initials LU, for Mr Lefèvre and his wife
However, the success of Mr Lefèvre’s buttery biscuits would suggest they are not used like primitive clocks and nibbled at a rate of one bite an hour, but are eaten rather more quickly…
By 1900, the LU petit beurre was already renowned, winning the grand prize for biscuits at the Paris Universal Exposition, and is still regularly cited as one of France’s favourites.
Each year LU produces one billion of them, equal to 9,000 tonnes.
The Lefèvre-Utile family remained in control of the company until the 1960s, when it merged with six other brands.
Today the LU brand is owned by the multinational Mondelez International (formerly Kraft Foods Group).
Yet the monument to time remains, both for people who pass by the facade of the Lieu Unique tower, and for those who continue to enjoy the biscuit.