Will the real Camembert please stand up?
Exhibit A: creamy white rind, soft, creamy centre. Tastes like mushrooms and milk and smells like ripe socks.
Exhibit B: creamy white rind with brown mottles, oozing, unctuous centre. Tastes like truffles and butter and smells like boiled cabbage.
In a line-up, you might be tempted to go for exhibit A, a product made in Normandy and found in supermarkets around the world.
But that’s not the real deal.
Exhibit B: traditional Camembert hand-made with love from raw milk from Normandy cows living in the Normandy countryside, feasting on Normandy flora. Milk hand-ladled into hand-prepared moulds by the loving hands of farmer-producers who love Normandy.
Exhibit A is mass-produced in Normandy with pasteurised milk for the global market. It’s the export cheese, the half-the-price-of-traditional-Camembert cheese.
Exhibit B is locally produced and has export restrictions – some countries don’t allow the import of raw milk cheese with short ripening periods. But Exhibit B has got the glorious AOP award logo stamped on each hand-filled package.
AOP: appellation d’origine protégée which translates as protected designation of origin.
Exhibit B is the traditional, regional cheese that is easily verified and quality-protected.
Except it isn’t. A February 2018 ruling allowed for Camembert made with pasteurised milk to be stamped with the prestigious AOP assignation. By 2021, all cheese made in Normandy with 30% pasteurised milk from Normandy cows will share the same distinction as cheese made with +50% raw milk from Normandy cows. Raw milk Camembert and pasteurised milk Camembert will share the AOP label.
Traditional raw milk producers will be entitled to add a new descriptor of authentic (veritable) to their labels so long as they have used +70% milk from Normandy cows.
What to look for on the packet:
AOP (under the new ruling: either Exhibit A or Exhibit B cheese)
Au Lait Cru - Raw milk (Exhibit B cheese)
La production fermière - Farm production (Exhibit B cheese)
moulé à la louche - Hand-ladled (Exhibit B cheese)
Traditionnel à la louche - Traditional with ladle (Exhibit B cheese)
Camembert de Normandie - Camembert of Normandy (Exhibit B cheese)
Camembert fabriqué en Normandie - Camembert made in Normandy (Exhibit A cheese)
Veritable Camembert de Normandie - Authentic Camembert of Normandy (Exhibit B cheese)
Veritable Moulage - authentic molding (Exhibit B cheese)
Maître Fromager - Master Cheesemaker (Exhibit B cheese)
Big Industry producers v. traditional Normandy farmer-producers: The big guys win. They bring big euros and many jobs to the local economy. Traditional farmers fund themselves. Traditionally. Where do local businesses fit into the global market? Is there space for both local and global economies to flourish in a single market? Consumer choice counts. Next time you're standing at the cheese counter, spare a thought for the cows, the farmers and producers and the quality of the cheese. Spare a thought for tradition and artisan craftsmanship. Spare a couple more pounds/euros/dollars/whatevers and support traditional cheese makers.