France Travel Planner by Tom Brosnahan & Jane Fisher   History of Camembert Cheese, France
One of France's most famous cheeses has an interesting history.




We were exploring Camembert because we enjoy eating it, but like many things in France we found it also has an interesting and somewhat surprising history.

The first surprise came in the village of Vimoutiers, home of one of the Camembert museums. More...

Not only is there a statue of a cow in front of the hôtel de ville (town hall) of Vimoutiers, but there is a statue to Marie Harel, who is credited with inventing Camembert.

What's surprising about that? The statue was a gift of the men and women making cheese in Van Wert, Ohio, USA! Van Wert was the home of Borden's, where my childhood Camembert was made. During World War II, Vimoutiers was bombed by US forces, and the folks from Van Wert contributed to rebuild the statue of Marie Harel.

Another surprise: Most Camembert isn't made in Camembert or even in Normandy. In fact, the early cheesemakers didn't protect the name and did not get an AOC (appélation d'origine controlée), a designation granted to various wines, cheeses, and other products, based on terroir and other geographical considerations. To partially address this, in 1983 Camembert de Normandie was granted an AOC, and in 1992 a Protected Designation of Origin. So if you want the real thing look for Camembert de Normandie rather than simply Camembert.

But back to history...Marie Harel apparently started making Camembert in 1791, with advice from a priest who came from the Brie region. The story goes that she sheltered the priest during the French Revolution, and in turn he gave her some tips on cheesmaking, to which she added her own knowledge and packaged the product in the characteristic small round wooden boxes.

Marie's Camembert was made from unpasturized milk (lait cru). While most cheesemakers today use pasturized milk, Camembert de Normandie must be made from unpasturized milk (see the photo, above, which indicates au lait cru.

Camembert has been around for a long time and is likely to continue to delight the palates of French and internationals alike for a long time. So enjoy it, in France and at home, and be sure to try other delicious French cheeses.

And remember the famous words of French President Charles DeGaulle, How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?

I don't know about governing, but the tasting opportunities are delightful!

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Camembert cheese, Normandy, France

Above, Camembert de Normandie, bought in the village.

Below, Statue of Marie Harel in Vimoutiers.


Marie Harel, Vimoutiers, France

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