World Cheese Encyclopaedia - Each Sunday learn all about a cheese in season
Country: France 🇫🇷
Made from: Cow’s milk
Texture: Supple, yielding
Taste: Buttery, creamy, hints of mushrooms or truffles and cellar
Certification: AOC, PDO
Aging: At least 3 weeks
Although much imitated everywhere, production of Camembert originated in Normandy, France, invented in 1791 by Marie Harel. The name "Camembert de Normandie" is protected under AOC rules that were grantd in 1983, meaning that cheeses bearing this name have to be made according to specific guidelines.
Regions for production are Calvados, Eure, Manche, Orne and Seine-Maritime, all areas that are dominated by excellent grazing pasture and a mild maritime climate. Milk for production is sourced only from local herds of Normandie cows.
Production of Camembert de Normandie, which is made from raw milk, involves the very careful handling of the curd in order to preserve as much moisture as possible. If the curd is overly agitated, it quickly drains of whey thereby ruining the texture of what should be a soft and yielding cheese.
The cheese is made by inoculating warmed cow milk with mesophilic bacteria, then adding rennet and allowing the mixture to coagulate. The curd is then cut into roughly 1 cm (1/2 inch) cubes, salted, and transferred to low cylindrical camembert molds. The molds are turned every six to twelve hours to allow the whey to drain evenly from the cut curds; after 48 hours, each mold contains a flat, cylindrical, solid cheese mass weighing generally 250 grams (about 9 oz). At this point the fresh cheese is hard, crumbly, and bland.
The surface of each cheese is then sprayed with an aqueous suspension of the mold Penicillium camemberti, and the cheeses are left to ripen for a legally required minimum of three weeks. This affinage produces the distinctive bloomy, edible rind and creamy interior texture characteristic of the cheese. Once the cheeses are sufficiently ripe, they are wrapped in paper and may be placed in wooden boxes for transport.
When ripe, Camembert de Normandie are covered with a white, bloomy mold that frequently has slightly reddish stripes and patches. Aromas are of mushrooms and clean cellar. The texture of the cheese should be supple, yielding, and consistent throughout. The color of the interior paste is a deep, golden yellow. Camembert cheese is bland, hard and crumbly in texture when fresh. As the cheese matures it forms a smooth, runny interior and a white bloomy rind that is typical to Camenbert cheese. Flavors of genuine Camembert de Normandie are buttery and rich with hints of mushrooms or truffles and cellar.
Typically camembert tends to be sold whole in thin, round, wooden containers made from poplar. Modern variations in packaging include cartons and tin cans, with a ring-pull tab for opening (Camembert in metallic boxes does not exist on the French market). The cardboard boxes are reserved for the low-cost camemberts. The product is the same as in the wooden container, wrapped dry in a paper/foil wrapper, and not immersed in brine or oil.
Camembert was reputedly first made in 1791 by Marie Harel, a farmer from Normandy, following advice from a priest who came from Brie. The legend is possibly the best known of all the French cheese myths. The story goes that a priest, to whom she gave shelter during the Revolution, gave her the recipe for Camembert as a token of his gratitude. However the first recorded mentions of Camembert-style cheese in the region occur over 100 years prior to this. For an account of the history of Camembert to the present day, consult Pierre Boisard’s ‘Camembert: A National Myth’.
The origin of the cheese known today as camembert rests with the beginnings of the industrialization of the cheesemaking process at the end of the 19th century. In 1890, an engineer, M. Ridel, devised the wooden box that was used to carry the cheese and helped to send it for longer distances, in particular to America, where it became very popular. These boxes are still used today.
Before fungi were understood, the color of camembert rind was a matter of chance, most commonly blue-grey, with brown spots. From the early 20th century onwards, the rind has been more commonly pure white, but it was not until the mid-1970s that pure white became standard.
The cheese was famously issued to French troops during World War I, becoming firmly fixed in French popular culture as a result. It has many other roles in French culture, literature, and history. It is now internationally known, and many local varieties are made around the world.
In the nineteenth century demand for Camembert-style cheese soon spawned imitation cheeses across France. With no legal impediment to stop them, cheesemakers throughout France began to use the name Camembert for these cheeses.
Efforts by the Constitutive Assembly of the Association of Producers of Genuine Camembert to limit the use of the name Camembert to a specific, Norman-made product ended in failure in 1926, when the appellate court at Orléans declared that the name Camembert had fallen into the public domain. Hence cheese called Camembert is made throughout France. Camembert AOC however may only be produced in the departments of Calvados, L’Eure, Manche, L’Orne and Seine Maritime.
The variety named Camembert de Normandie was granted a protected designation of origin in 1992 after the original AOC in 1983. The AOC Camembert can only be made from raw, unpasteurized milk from vaches normandes cows.
How to enjoy it
Camembert de Normandie is best paired with a light red wine such as Beaujolais, Chenin Blanc, St Emilion, St Estephe or traditionally a glass of Normandy cider.
Sources: Culture, cheese.com, Sheridan Cheese Mongers, Fiona Becket, Decanter