CAMEMBERT is not only a cheese,
It's above all a nice village
That one day gave its name
To this reknown cheese.
Do you want to know its history?
It's simple, you should trust me:
In the Beaumoncel manor
Lived Marie Harel.
She was a humble farmer,
Here, all the women are proud of her.
It's her who created it,
Helped by a priest, she was hiding.
Fleeing the revolution upheaval,
He found a refuge there.
Seeing how bravely she was working,
He told her how to mature it.
It was her reward.
Here, the camembert was born.
Of course now, it is made every where:
In the whole Europe, in America, even farther...
But here, It's not a dream,
Two farmers took over from Marie Harel.
If you are a bit greedy
By both of them, you'll find it excellent
-Father Etienne, Camembert priest
Contrary to popular belief, Marie Harel did not invent the delectable cheese of the Norman town of Camembert. This cheese, or a cheese very similar to it, had been made for at least one hundred years before Harel was accredited with its creation in 1791. Thomas Corneille wrote in his “General Geographic and Historical History” about the splendid cheeses you could buy at the Camembert markets in 1708 and other records date as far back as 1680. Instead, Harel slightly altered the recipe (in a way which was, in fact, dictated to her by her friend Abbey Bonvoust) and, more importantly, commercialized the cheese outside of the small town of Camembert. In 1855, Harel’s daughter presented the cheese to Napoleon, saying that it came from a village named Camembert. He praised it, exclaiming it was the finest cheese he had ever tasted. From then on, the cheese took on its contemporary name.
The boom of railroads and steamboats in Europe in the late nineteenth century allowed this delicious secret to expand its horizons. Although a great opportunity, many producers were faced with the problem of how to ship the cheese. In 1890, Ridel, a French engineer, designed the simple, effective wooden box that would become a trademark of Camembert.
As expected, Camembert was a huge success. As demand increased, more farms were created. As milk became the primary agricultural production of the town, rich farmers formed co-operative societies to collect milk from different farms. This resulted in a change of taste and a softer texture. It also during this time that Camembert acquired its light yellow color.
Inevitably, other countries made attempts to forge their own Camembert cheese. Although flattering at first, Norman producers did not appreciate the degrading of their profession and passion. In 1909 the Syndicat des Fabricants du Véritable Camembert de Normandie was formed (The Genuine Camembert of Normandy Makers Syndicate) under president M. Vignoboule. In order to preserve the quality and tradition of their cheese, they obtained the “Label Rouge,” a French quality label, in 1968. Although some major companies use factory machines to mass produce Camembert, most companies still use traditional methods of creating their cheese, making it just as good as it was back in 1800.
First, the milk (which is from the countryside of Normandy, no other milk will do) is poured into larges bowls called “bassines normandes,” where the milk curdles. Rennet (an enzyme that reduces the time necessary to separate the liquids from the solids) is added, and the milk is let sit until it turns into curds. Once done, it is removed by hand using special ladles and placed into the mould, where the curds are leveled. It is vital that this done slowly and carefully to prevent the curds from being shaken. The mould is placed on a shelf overnight, in order to drain off the whey. The next morning, the cheese, which is now in its final shape, is covered with a thin later of salt and penicillium candidum, a fungus. Here is where you need the patience: the cheese is left on a shelf for approximately 15 days. After this, the cheese is boxed and shipped to markets worldwide.
Tips on properly enjoying Camembert:
- Opinions on the best time to eat Camembert cheese vary. Some say it is best when eaten 21 to 25 days after its creation, others say 30 to 35. The longer the cheese stays out, the softer it gets.
- All experts agree Camembert is at its peak during Spring, when the quality of the milk is higher.
- Camembert should be stored in a refrigerator between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius. It is best eaten at between 18 and 20 degrees Celsius.
- Camembert is generally enjoyed best on a good French bread.
Proteins, lactose, etc.
Appearance: Soft and light yellow, with a thin white crust, sometimes with small red dots.
Milk: Cow milk
Fat Content: 45%
Recommended Wine: St. Emilion, St. Estephe
- It is said that Camembert can be a source of artistic inspiration. There have been countless songs written about the splendors of the cheese. Salvador Dali even claimed that he came up with the idea of soft watches while indulging in Camembert cheese.
- In the early 1900’s, Joël Hubaut created the sport of Camembert-throwing. Competitions in this sport still take place today, with the record being over forty meters.
- For a long time Camembert was used as a medicine for stomachaches, supposedly with great results. Joseph Knirim, an American visitor, was so convinced that his virus was cured by the cheese that had a statue of Marie Harel erected in the village.
- The taste of Camembert is so popular in the Norman area that they sell chocolate-covered camembert, camembert cider, and camembert ice cream, served on hot toast.
Bouquet of our meals,
What would become life,
If you did not exist?