There’s another war going on in Normandy, France, 64 years after the allied troops were there fighting on D Day. This time it’s the big cheese versus the little cheese. Well cheese makers to be precise. Normandy has been producing Camembert type cheese since the 11th century using unpasteurized raw milk and in recognition of this the French government has handed out it’s AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) – controlled term of origin to Camembert. This basically means the cheeses are only given this stamp if they are made from raw milk and aged in Normandy. Well the big boys want to get their hands onto this coveted stamp but being such large organisations and multinationals there is no way that they could ensure that the enormous dairies responsible for producing their Camembert could possibly take the care required when using unpasteurized milk (the small remaining dairies even go as far as washing their trucks twice a day). So these large companies are trying to persuade the French government that for health reasons they need to pasteurize and therefore the rules should be changed. The supermarkets and exporters want pasteurized so that’s what they will get.
Real Camembert de Normandie should have a firm crust with a powdery bloom known as the fleur, a soft creamy texture and a rich buttery, slightly nutty, even fruity flavor. The fast disappearing traditional producers and supporters agree that the mass produced pasteurized version doesn’t have the same odor, taste, color or texture. Probably contributing to the fact is the flavor of the milk compared to that produced from cows grazing on the Normandy vegetation and minerally rich grasses. Then the heating process just about kills whatever is left.
The US FDA prohibits imports of raw milk cheese and insisits that US raw milk cheese has to be aged for 60 days. But in Normandy their Camembert is ready in just about 3 weeks. So what are we so scared about? OK listeria, salmonella, e coli and their pals are not something we want to catch hold of. But before the 1949 ban we were the world’s largest importer of these cheeses. And what about the French themselves who consume 50lbs of cheese per person each year with around 10-15% unpasteurized, they aren’t dropping like flies, neither are the British, Spanish and Italians amongst others who aren’t afraid of a bit of raw French milk. It’s really only the same as taking a ‘risk’ on an oyster. After all, French camembert contains simply the finest milk, a shake of salt and a spot of rennet. What exactly does Sandwich-Mate and other similar products consist of?