Saturday, 21 January 2017

Camembert


LePetit is a well known brand of Camembert cheese, widely available and purchased regularly by many French families. However, it is not what purists would call 'the real thing'.

A LePetit camembert cheese box.

The LePetit family founded their cheesemaking business in 1872, as proudly proclaimed by the 19th century style packaging of the cheese today. But in 1978 the family company was bought out by the giant Lactalis and things changed. The cheese was still made in Normandy, but the process was increasingly industrialised. In 1996 an AOC was created for 'true' camembert, which specified that it must be made in Normandy, from raw milk sourced in Normandy from Normande breed cows. In 2007, after a kerfuffle with INAO, who establish the standards for the AOCs, Lactalis quietly dropped the 'de Normandie' part of the LePetit labels and now the boxes say 'fabriqué en Normandie'. This means they are adhering to a different AOC standard, that which was created for industrial camembert.

In fact, these days, according to Lactalis, the milk in a LePetit camembert does still come from cows in Normandy (although not, I suspect, necessarily from Normande cows). It is not necessarily pasturised (read the packaging carefully, because it often is) but it is micro-filtered. The industrially processed milk they use ensures a standardised product. If you buy a LePetit camembert, you know what you are getting, and to be fair, it's a quite tasty cheese.


Camembert (in the middle) as part of a cheese course.

In fact, it seems that camembert has been an industrial product almost from its origin, and arrived on the scene just in time for the railways to be able to ship it around the country. To facilitate this, the poplar wood box that the more prestigious brands such as LePetit still come in was invented, and camembert gained a massive nationwide share of the market in France, which it continues to hold.

Lactalis, although still a family owned French company, is the largest dairy foods producer in the world, and owns many well known brands, including the ubiquitous and heavily advertised Président brand camembert. 

10 comments:

  1. I was really surprised, a few weeks ago at my supermarket her in Virginia, to see a few Le Rustique Camemberts. it is the brand I buy in Paris. They're as good here as they are there.

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    1. Camenbert and Brie in France are a totally different experience than on the UK... they seem to store both cheeses until they are trying to escape from the box... and then sell them!! They are acidic, rank and horrible....
      Here, there is nothing nicer than a bit of Brie... or even Camenbert... and a fresh pear!!

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    2. I bet those Le Rustique camembert cheeses cost 6 to 8 times there than (even) in Paris!

      Camembert is sort of like the cheddar of the French cheese market. Anybody can make it anywhere and call it Camembert. Anybody can make cheddar cheese anywhere, including in Oregon and Wisconsin. Camembert is actually a village in Normandy, and as you say, there is a distinction between Camembert de Normandie (the real thing, and more expensive) and Camembert Fabrique en Normandie, which is the industrial version. CHM, I remember one of the best Camembert cheeses I ever had was one that I bought in San Francisco and took with me down to your place in the desert. It was made from unpasteurized milk. When I lived in Normandy in the early 1970s, I lived for a year on a diet of inexpensive Camembert and good bread.

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    3. Ken I agree entirely that there are parallels between Camembert and cheddar.

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  2. we can sometimes get le rustique here in NC...CHM.....at a cost of about $10 but sometimes I splurge when I get really homesick for french cheese

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  3. The strangest thing happened today on this blog. The comment I was going to write for this post was already made by me at a certain date in the past, but not on 31 December 2016. I'm still able not to confuse camembert with biscotti. Today is the 21 January 2017; how did my pertinent comment appear this morning before I even got up? All the answers are dated today!

    I stick to my comment about Le Rustique. Also, I can buy the Île de France Brie, here in Virginia, that is NOT made in France, but somewhere in the states, no local origin mentioned. It is very expensive for a local product, but it is somewhat close to the real thing.

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    1. It's because I wrote this post and accidentally published a half finished version of it a couple of weeks ago. You must have been online at the time and commented before I realised and unpublished it until today.

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    2. Les joyeusetés de l'électronique! All is well that ends well.

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  4. Thank you for that very interesting explanation.

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    1. My pleasure. I thought the background behind this particular brand was interesting, but it was quite by chance that I found out about it.

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