Something cheesy about pending court battle
PARIS: The debate over just whose soft, salty Camembert is the true Normandy cheese may be headed for the courts.
Small producers from the northwestern French region say industrialists are capitalising on the artisan makers’ prized “Camembert of Normandy” label by using the “Camembert made in Normandy” phrase to designate their version of the round cow’s milk cheese.
While any cheesemaker can print the word “Camembert” on their label, the “Camembert of Normandy” term is a form of European certification, or appellation d’origine protégée (AOP), reserved since 1983 for the few who follow traditional methods.
Purists use raw milk from Normandy cows and hand-ladle the cheese into moulds. Industrialists tend to pasteurise their milk – or heat it to kill bacteria and render the curd easier to process – and pro- cure their milk from all over, allowing for a lower-priced product. Worried that the difference between the two is being lost on consumers, the association of AOP Camembert makers plans to file a “usurpation of notoriety” claim to bar industrialists from using the similar phrase.
The “Camembert made in Normandy” label is accurate, as these industrialists do make their pasteurised Camembert in the region. But experts say the nuance in wording compounds a situation in which shoppers are already swamped with information and have a poor understanding of label meanings.
“People will pay more attention to colours on the box or its rustic aspect or the image of a cow under an apple tree,” said Charles Pernin, a food expert at the French consumer protection agency CLCV.
The AOP producers said they had asked the industrialists to contribute financially to a publicity campaign and drop the “Made in Normandy” phrase, but they had failed to reach an agreement.
“We’re not warriors,” said Patrick Mercier, president of the association of Normandy Camembert producers filing the complaint. “We tried to find a solution; now this is our last resort.”
AOP Camembert represents only about 5 percent of the total French Camembert market share. Last year, AOP producers made 4 300 tons of Camembert, while the non-aop industrialists made 80 000 tons, said Mercier. With their percentage of the market share at an all-time low and the added confusion over labels, the AOP producers are concerned they will get stamped out of the market, and the tradition will be lost.
“Right now, the numbers are catastrophic for AOP Camembert,” said Mercier. “So, imagine if we were to disappear; a true image of Normandy would disappear along with us.”
The pungent, runny cheese with the earthy smell and fruity flavour dates back to at least the 18th century in the Camembert village of Normandy. Initially confined to Normandy, the cheese was brought to Paris in the 1850s via the newly built railway and gained national appeal in the 20th century.
“Thanks to World War I – if we can say that – soldiers from all over France encountered Camembert, which was part of their rations,” said Pierre Boisard, author of Camembert: A National Myth.
With the advent of pasteurisation in the 1950s, Camembert spread globally, leading to today’s divided market. Compared to the pasteurised kind, raw-milk Camembert tends to be creamier with a sharper flavour and a brighter yellow on the inside. It also costs more.
Whatever the difference in ingredients and price, the majority of the labels have some kind of rustic image in place. This labelling similarity threatens to obscure the lines between the varieties.
“We talk a lot about biodiversity, but there’s also a cultural diversity, a gastronomic diversity that’s at stake, and that’s why these specific labels like the AOP were put into place,” said Pernin, the consumer expert. – Reuters