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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Camembert Cheese; France's most Famous Cow's Milk Cheese.

Camembert; France's most Famous Cheese.
Camembert is a soft, cow's milk, cheese with 45% fat, with the best being made with unpasteurized milk; despite that caveat some decent French camemberts are made with pasteurized milk.


A whole baked Camembert.

Photograph courtesy of tomylees


Try the difference between any Camembert cheese and the best of the best which is a Camembert de Normandie AOP, (AOC), made with unpasteurized milk; this you may only be able to do when you visit France as many countries prohibit the importation of soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk. Enjoy yourself in France! 

      Buying a Camembert

When choosing any Camembert from a cheese trolley the center should be soft, just beginning to bulge when cut but not running, any cheese that looks hard or dry should be left for the mice.

 A perfectly ripe camembert.  
Note  the cheese is just  beginning to bulge.
Photograph from Yay images and monkeybusiness
The village of Camembert  where camembert's history began is in the département of Orne, Normandie, Normandy and despite the village's fame it still has less than 200 inhabitants.
A strawberry, arugular and camembert salad.
Photograph courtesy of stu_spivack.
  Marie Harel the creator of Camembert.

According to tradition Camembert cheese was created by a Ms. Marie Harel, the owner of a farm just outside the village, at the end of the 18th century, during the French revolution. The classic tale includes a priest, who helped Ms. Harel in the creation of the cheese, and in return Ms. Harel hid the priest from the revolutionaries.  Despite the tradition Camembert cheese probably pre-dates Ms. Harel by a few hundred years.

 A statue of Marie Harel in Vimoutiers.
Photograph courtesy of dvdbramhall.

Vimoutiers the town, the protector of Camembert.
Close to the village of Camembert , 3kms, 2 miles, away, is the small, but extremely busy,  town of Vimoutiers .with just under 5,000 inhabitants.   Vimoutiers has taken over the responsibility for merchandising Camembert de Normandie AOC, and it has erected two statues: one in memory of Marie Harel and the second named, for a reason I do not know,  Ratisfaite, honors of the real force behind the cheese, the Norman Cow.  Vimoutiers also has a Camembert Museum, their Musée du Camembert.

    Statue of the Norman cow in Vimoutiers. 
Photograph courtesy of dvdbramhall.
To assure that visitors to Vimoutiers are only offered the best Camembert cheese there is a very active, food orientated, Brotherhood and Sisterhood, the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Camembert, the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of the Knights of the Camembert.  These gallant knights promote the Camembert de Normandie AOP,  and do battle with all the pasteurized milk versions of their beloved cheese.
A Camembert de Normandie AOC,
 branded with Marie Harel's name.
Photograph courtesy of Tuzemsky
It is not easy being a Knight of the Camembert as they have to work alongside another confrérie which guards the tradition of a True Normand. A True Normand  is a glass  of Calvados drunk in the middle of a Norman meal;  too many True Normands and the Knights of the Camembert may lose their jobs. When visiting Vimoutiers  you quickly realize that there is a great deal of activity at the dinner table;  so if you have the time stop in Vimoutiers and enjoy real Pays d Auge Norman cuisine.  Of course in the spirit of the place you may only choose Camembert for the cheese course, and an aged Calvados for your True Normand, and again later as a digestif  .

Confrérie des Chevaliers du Camembert.

  Photograph from the Confrérie's Facebook page. 
 If you are in Normandy in April visit Vimoutiers Easter Fair, or in October visit the VimoutiersFoire de la Pomme, their apple fair. Their Foire de la Pomme is held annually on the third Sunday of October and celebrates their local cidre, cider, as well as Normandy’s Calvados, their three unique apple brandies, as well as Pommeau, Normandy's apple based aperitif. All of Vimoutiers fairs offer tastings and the sale of Camembert de Normandie AOP  cheeses as do the Monday afternoon and Friday morning market days.  
Another Camembert de Normadie AOC.
Photograph courtesy of   gcorrin.
Vimoutiers may do more than any other town to promote Camembert, but only the tiny village of Camembert has an annual Camembert  “Eat as Much as you Can” competition. For the dates of that fair next year check with the French Government Tourist Office in your country before you leave home. 
 Paris to Camembert bicycle race.
Photograph courtesy of  pinarancio.
 If you are a Camembert aficionado, and also a competitive cyclist, join the annual Paris - Camembert  bicycle race.  The Paris- Camembert is a one-day 120 km race held on the third Tuesday of April every year. To watch the race with make a note that the Paris-Camembert race no longer begins in Paris, rather in a village outside Paris called Magnanville, and while  all the competitors must cycle through the village of Camembert, the race ends, as may be expected, in Vimoutiers.
 French fromageries, cheese shops sell the best Camembert cheeses by the day their customer’s plan to eat the cheese. The camemberts offered  will not have been refrigerated, rather kept in a cool cellar, and brought out as the cheese ripens. 
A Parisian Fromagerie
Photograph courtesy of Pranav Bhatt.
You may purchase a camembert that will be ready to eat today, or next week, or two weeks ahead; however, after you have bought your Camembert, like other cheeses, it will not mature in a refrigerator; it will remain as you bought it and slowly dry out. To mature a cheese you need a cool basement or a wine cooler; however, in a winter that is cold but not freezing leaving the cheese a private home car garage will do just as well.  See my post: Buying Cheese in France. Bringing French Cheese Home and A Cheese Lexicon for buying French Cheese.
 Camembert au Lait Cru – Camembert made with unpasteurized milk. If the shop or supermarket making this claim were selling the very very best, then they would be offering a Normandie Camembert  PDO and you may be sure that that would have been clearly noted.
 Camembert au Lait Cru Moulé à la Louche – More supermarket or cheese shop advertising!  This describes a Camembert cheese made with unpasteurized milk and prepared using a particular cheese ladle. Those extra words moulé à la louche, molded on the ladle, may make you feel that you are being offered something unique. Do not pay more for this; all unpasteurized camembert cheeses are made this way anyway!
A note about  the AOC or AOP  initials on the label of a Camembert de Normandie :

    The French AOC initials  on the labels of  many French foods and wines protect the name, origin, and method of manufacture  of these products, and  they have been in use for nearly 80 years. These French initials are are now gradually being replaced by the Pan-European  AOP,, the English PDO, which stands for: the Protected Designation of Origin. The AOP gives a very similar protection to the consumer for food products as the AOC.  The Camembert de Normandie received its AOC label in 1983. See the  post: Why is the AOC becoming an AOP on French Food, Wines and More?
Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013
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