As you peruse the cheese aisles in supermarkets, has it ever occurred to you that the Camembert, arguably France’s most famous cheese, may not be authentic?
Unless you’re French or a cheese connoisseur, you probably don’t know that genuine Camembert cheese is traditionally crafted from raw, unpasteurised milk from Normandy cows. The cheese itself is soft, off-white and encircled by a bloomy rind with runny and gooey insides that give off a smell perceived by some to be stinky.
Only cheeses that meet strict production conditions, currently estimated at just 10% of total production in France, can be labelled Camembert de Normandie according to the Appellation d’Origine Protegee (AOP), the official European quality seal that allows products to enjoy legal protection throughout the European Community. Camembert de Normandie was granted an AOP in 1992, after the original Apellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), its local equivalent in France, in 1983. The Camembert Fabrique en Normandie label that we see in supermarket chain stores are Camembert-like mass-produced cheeses by industrial dairy producers, which use pasteurised milk for health, regulatory or safety reasons.
Indeed, artisanal Camembert cheese - and artisanal French cheeses in general - are in danger of becoming extinct due to increasingly stiff hygiene regulations enforced on small producers, and a general decline in demand for artisan-made cheeses in France. This constriction in demand and supply in the artisanal space is not helped by the broad-base availability of commercially-made cheeses touted by global dairy conglomerates.