Some­thing cheesy about pend­ing court bat­tle

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODVIBE -

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

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