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.