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On the wedge of glory

Mike Pomranz
March 21, 2018

Camembert is a real place in France where Camembert cheese originally comes from. However, though some types of Camembert cheese must come from Camembert the town, not all of them do. And if you believe the recent results of the World Championship Cheese Contest, the best Camembert actually comes from, uh, Canada.

As should probably be expected, the French media has been a bit up in arms after a Canadian cheese took home top honors in the Camembert category during the biennial contest held earlier this month in Madison by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. You’d think that France might take some consolation in knowing that the winning Camembert has a bit of a French pedigree since the producer, Agropur, is based in Saint-Hubert in the French-speaking province of Quebec. Or maybe that makes things a thousand times worse. (Frankly, I’m not entirely up on France-Quebec relations.)

Regardless, a headline from the paper Paris-Normandie read, “Un camembert normand détrôné par un québécois!” which loosely translates to “You gotta be kidding us!” Meanwhile, Ouest-France proclaimed, “Comment ça? Le meilleur camembert du monde est ... québécois!” which would seem to be the polite French way of saying “What the hell?!”

Meanwhile, the Quebec-based Journal de Montreal countered with a story entitled, “La France insultée par un fromage d’ici”—which if I remember middle school French correctly is a sort of Quebecois slang for “Quit your whining, France!”

To be fair, France has never done amazing well in the Camembert category at the World Championship Cheese Awards, and 2018 was no exception. The event only ranks the top five cheeses in each style, and when it comes to Camembert, France was nowhere to be found in that group. Granted, a French cheese did take the top overall “2018 World Champion” prize—a hard sheep’s milk cheese named Esquirrou, made in France at Mauleon Fromagerie by Michel Touyarou—but that win does little to comfort Camambert and its long cheesemaking tradition.

Still, it’s not like true French Camembert should even feel the need to slum it with these lesser global Camemberts. As I mentioned above, some types of Camembert do have to come from the region. This original, authentic Camembert style known as “Camembert de Normandie” actually has an official Protected Designation of Origin distinction. To those who make this PDO Camembert using the traditional ingredients and methods in Normandy, other Camemberts just aren’t the same. They’re award-winning, yes, but they’re just not the same.

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