Camembert de Normandie

Soft cheese with bloomy rind
Fat content

The Camembert de Normandie cheese: introduction

The name of the Camembert de Normandie cheese comes from that of the village in the department of Orne where the cheese was fabricated which was presented to Napoléon III at the inauguration of the railway line between Paris and Granville. The Camambert de Normandie cheese is soft with a bloomy rind, made from unpasturised milk produced essentially from the Normandy breed of cow, who graze for more than 6 months a year. The Camembert cheese is the result of curds which are partially seperated, put into moulds in 5 layers where it is rested between each layer and then drained periodically.

Shaped as a flat cylinder with a diameter of 10.5 to 11.5cm and a thickness of 3cm, the Camembert cheese weighs at least 250g, of which at least 115g is dry extract and 45% fat of the dry extract. It has a fine, white, bloomy rind (Penicillium Candidum) which is speckled with red pigments (Brevibacterium linens), depending on how long it has been matured for. The sides are smooth and the heel is straight. As a fully ripe cheese, it is soft and smooth and ivory to pale yellow in colour. Half ripened, it has a solid white centre of 2-3mm. The unpasturised Camemberts which are artisan (moulded by hand using a ladle and salted on the fly to drain the water) are the only ones which benefit from the appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC). Furthermore, they can only be sold when they have been matured and are never cut into portions.

The Camembert cheese takes the shape of a flat disc with a diameter of 11cm, a thickness of 3cm and a weight of 250g including the packaging. The maturing process of the Camembert cheese lasts for around 30 days. Milk coming from selected farms of the farmlands of Orne come mostly come from the Normandy breed of cow, who graze for over 6 months a year.

Exterior appearance of the Camembert de Normandie cheese: even form, flat surface , velvety rind sprinkled with red pigments.
Odour of the Camembert de Normandie cheese: fragrant with an earthy aroma
Texture of the Camembert de Normandie cheese: smooth, being runny
Taste of the Camembert de Normandie cheese: fruity and quite strong.

 History of the Camembert de Normandie cheese

Marie-Christine HAREL, born in Crouttes in 1761 is attributed to the birth of the Camembert cheese. Perfectioning her cheeses thanks to the advice of a non-juror priest  who originated from the region of Brie, she invented the Camembert cheese. It was then her daughter, born in 1787,  also named Marie and her descendant (PAYNEL) who developed the fabrication of the cheese. The Camembert cheese was invented in 1791 by Marie HAREL. The 12th July 1790, in the turmoil of the revolution, the constituant assembly voted the for the civil constitution of the clergy. Rather than taking the oath to the Republic, many priests preferred to flee the country. In Normandy, the two principle ports for getting to England  were Granville and Honfleur. It is for this reason that some priests travelled through the region of Vimoutiers to get to Lisieux and then the coast.

The abbot Guibe, priest of Camembert, wrote in a parish bulletin in 1947: "During the revolutionary period, 12 priests signed the the acts that  I found. Amongst them is Charles-Jean Bonvoust, benedictine, prior of Rouxville. According to the acts that were signed, he had hidden at Camembert, from the moth of July 1796 to February 1797. According to the story of Victor Paynel, grandson of Marie Harel, it was this priest who, observing his grandmother making cheese, taught her a recipe he knew of. After much research done by Mr Gavin on this point, it was confirmed that in fact this priest had given Marie Harel a recipe for cheese which enabled the formation of a rind, the Camembert having previously been a "white" cheese. Marie Harel had wanted to create a new way of fabrication which would enable her to sell the cheeses commercially. She sold her Camemberts at the markets of Vimoutiers and Argentan. She received a lot of recognition for the quality of her cheeses. Despite the research that has been carried out for more than 40 years, it is still not known where or from what Marie Fontaine-Harel died. The only existing indication, which is not able to be verified, is a letter from Mr Fountaine-Blanchon who states: 'Madame Harel-Paynel knew how  to market the Camembert cheeses, by applying the method that her mother, Marie Fontaine-Harel, had devised, which she had passed on whilst working with her until her death at Champosoult in 1818.' "

In fact, before this, Thomas Corneille, the brother of Pierre Corneille, author of the Cid ,mentioned Camembert in his geographical dictionary published in 1708. Indeed, it says: "Vismonstiers: market town of France of the diocese of Lisieux. The market town is well populated and is served by 20 priests. Each Monday, there is a big market held there which sells excellent cheeses from Livarot and Camembert. This market town formerly known under the name Vicus Monasterii." And yet, many other texts and archaeological objects show that there was currently a cheese dairy in the Pays d'Auge (the region spanning Orne and Calvados where Lisieux is situiated) at the time of Corneille. There were numerous producers in the 18th and 19th Centuries, also names of local places  appeared to distinguish them and to create a form of recognition in order to sell them at a higher price. These cheeses were fabricated by the farmers but it was the affineurs who bought the cheese when it was "white" in other words fresh and who matured it and sold it on. At this time the Camembert was nothing more than a local cheese, which only got as far as the surrounding area of this commune in the south of the Pays d'Auge. The dictionary of Larmatinière, which appeared in 1741, repeated this information. The Camembert cheese was also mentioned by Jobey in his "Histoire d'Orbec" which appeared in 1760.

Wishing to attend the races at Haras du Pin, Napoléon III departed from Saint-Cloud the 8th August 1863 by train, he arrived at Argentan in the evening. He spent the night at the subprefecture and arrived the next day at a good hour, at Haras du Pin. On the Monday, he met Victor Paynel at Surdon and tasted on of the Camemberts. The emperor found it tasted very good and ordered a delivery for the Tuileries. This was a very expensive order, explained Victor Paynel, but due to this he could no longer satisfy the demand. When Victor Paynel opened a depot in Paris, on the letterhead he presiced that "In the village of Isigny- butter, eggs, cheese; the only supplier of the cheeses of Victor Paynel. Supplier to his Majesty The Emperor." Victor Paynel died on the 23rd July 1893. Since 1880, thanks to the discovery made by Louis Pasteur, the Camembert cheese could be manufactured industrially.

Two innovations permitted the development of this cheese: the railway between Paris-Lisieux-Caen in 1850, which meant that Normandy was only six hours away from Paris; and the wooden box, which, from 1890 ensured a much better conservation and transport than the simple bed of straw it had formerly been transported in. In 1890, the engineer RIDEL had the idea of packaging the cheese in a wooden box, in order to enable the cheese to travel more easily and keep in the flavours and aromas. From 1916,  it was one of the rations given to French soldiers in WWI. This contributed to the introduction of the cheese throughout the whole of France. But in the absence of a protection on the fabrication of the cheese, it was imitated throughout France and abroad. The "Cour d'Appel d'Orléans" confirmed in 1926 that the designation  "Camembert" is a generic term that has fallen into the public domain.

Associated wines Camembert de Normandie Associated wines

St Estephe / Pomerol / Sauternes / Faugères / Cidre brut