Unctuous, oozing Camembert Cheese
© Denzil Green
Camembert is a mild, creamy cheese that is slightly salty. The outside crust will have a few splashes of red.
Camembert starts off as a solid, soft cheese formed into thin wheels that have a coating of white surface bacteria applied to them. The bacteria does the ripening; as it spreads inward, the solid inside turns into a creamy semi-liquid. The wheels are kept thin because if they were too thick, the outside might liquify entirely while the inside remained unripened. If Camembert is too ripe, it will have an ammonia smell to it and a lot of red on the surface.
The ripening process takes two to three weeks.
Serve at room temperature as it really does have more flavour that way rather than straight out of the refrigerator.
Camembert was designated a generic cheese name under the PDO food registration system, so it can be made anywhere, by anyone.
“Camembert de Normandie”, however, is a protected name, having received a French AOC in 1983, and a European PDO in 1992. Both certifications specify that raw (unpasteurized) milk is to be used in order to carry this name.
In 2007, the two largest producers of “Camembert de Normandie” — Lactalis and Isigny-Sainte-Mère — switched to using micro-filtered milk. In doing so, they both abandoned the AOC and PDO credentials for their camembert. Both companies said they needed to make the move to address modern food safety requirements. Six children had become ill in December 2005 after eating raw-milk camembert, produced by the Réaux company.
Together, Lactalis and Isigny-Sainte-Mère make 90% of the camembert in Normandy. Their leaving the AOC left only five producers of raw-milk “Camembert de Normandie.”
Nutrition FactsPer 100 g (3 1/2 oz)AmountCalories297Fat23.7 gSaturated14.8 gCalcium350 mg
Use within a few days after purchasing. Some Camembert cheeses can be frozen successfully. For best results, first cut the cheese in half, and wrap each half tightly. Thaw in the refrigerator. If the cheese comes out crumbly, use for cooking.
Camembert dates from the time of the French revolution, in the late 1700s in Normandy. A priest, the l’abbé Gobert, was fleeing the Revolutionary terror in Paris, and made for Normandy, which was the route to England and safety. On 23 August 1792 he arrived at the door or Marie Harel (1761 – 1812) and her husband. Marie was a cousin of the bishop who had sent the young priest out of Paris. Marie had been making cheese to take to the local market each Monday, but it was a yellow, greasy cheese which didn’t sell well. The priest knew how to make Brie, and helped Marie to improve the cheese she made. The new improved cheese was a hit and sales took off. After a few more experimentations, Marie decided that the ideal size was 4 inches (11 cm) in diameter, which remains the size today.
Napoleon was reputedly served the cheese, and liked it so much he kissed the servant girl who served it to him. Marie’s son took up making the cheeses, but he moved back to his mother’s home town: Camembert. In 1863, Napoleon III was served the cheese, and he liked it as much as his ancestor did. He asked where it came from and was told, Camembert, and he replied, “Well, then, from now on it will be known as Camembert!”
The village of Vimoutiers in Normandy, where Marie lived, has a statue erected to her. On 14 June 1944, bombing destroyed a large part of the complex where the cheese was made. Some of the rubble falling from the building fell on the statue and knocked the head off. The head was found and placed temporarily at the base of the statue, but then it disappeared, likely taken by a souvenir seeker (and no doubt now has pride of place on a flagstone fireplace in a Milwaukee basement). With support from the Borden Cheese Company in America, a new statue was erected in 1956.
Literature & Lore
Customer: Camembert, perhaps?
Owner: Ah! We have Camembert, yessir.
Customer: (suprised) You do! Excellent.
Owner: Yessir. It’s..ah,…..it’s a bit runny…
Customer: Oh, I like it runny.
Owner: Well,.. It’s very runny, actually, sir.
Customer: No matter. Fetch hither the fromage de la Belle France! Mmmwah!
Owner: I…think it’s a bit runnier than you’ll like it, sir.
Customer: I don’t care how blinking runny it is. Hand it over with all speed.
Customer: What now?
Owner: The cat’s eaten it.
Monty Python’s Cheese Shop sketch, 1972
Samuel, Henry. Fate of true camembert in doubt. London: Daily Telegraph. 7 June 2007.