Here’s what it means for your cheese plate
Your favorite stinky cheese may not be around for much longer. Genuine Camembert cheese—made on small French farms with raw milk and stamped with its place of origin—is slowly going extinct. Although France’s cheese wars (try not to giggle) ended with a win for the little guy, the disagreement also resulted in what could end the production of true Camembert. Because making real Camembert requires such a specific process, larger cheesemakers have dropped out of the business, choosing instead to make what is called Camembert fabrique en Normandie, which tastes slightly different than the true version. Considering that the bigger cheese companies are prevailing in the market, true Camembert is disappearing.
Over a decade ago, France’s cheese wars over raw milk Camembert (also known as Camembert de Normandie, meaning literally “from Normandy”) was settled in favor of the small cheese farmers: French authorities declared that even cheese made from lightly pasteurized milk could not be called A.O.C. Camembert, or true Camembert de Normandie. Essentially, the A.O.C designation on the cheese’s label is meant to preserve the long history of small-batch raw milk cheeses, and to distinguish them from their mass-produced, pasteurized contemporaries in the market.
Unfortunately, once the larger Camembert manufacturers realized the strict limitations on how they would have to prepare the product in order to maintain an A.O.C rating, they simply stopped. Figuring out that they could cut corners and generate more product without greatly altering the cheese’s flavor, larger Camembert producers slapped a different qualifier on their label—Camembert fabrique en Normandie, or “made in Normandie"—and essentially sealed true Camembert’s fate.
Bloomberg reports that out of the 360 million wheels of Camembert produced annually, only four million are true Camembert de Normandie. And as larger cheese producers buy up small farms and take over the controlling portions of the cheese available for purchase, that percentage will only get smaller.
Of course, there is a distinct difference in flavor between the two Camemberts. But before you American foodies start to rage about preserving the terroir of the Camembert on your cheese plate, remember that the government doesn’t actually allow the real deal into the US. Due to potential pathogens in the unpasteurized milk, the FDA has ruled that any cheeses aged less than 60 days are illegal; true Camembert de Normandie is aged for 30. A few cheesemakers in the US make decent pasteurized versions, but if you really want to taste Camembert, better start saving up for a trip to France. And now with the threat of extinction, the sooner you could get there the better.