Fromage Producers Fight For "Real" Camembert

Camembert de Normandie

For 25 years, independent cheese-makers and cheese conglomerates have battled over what makes camembert authentic. The French fraud office may soon end the war on camembert once and for all.

Hailing from Normandy, the stinky, spherical cheese's recipe stems all the way back to the French Revolution. Today, however, two enormous corporations generate 95% of the camembert in the world.

Smaller-scale camembert manufacturers lay claim to their very own AOP, or appellation origin protégée, label. They follow the traditional recipe strictly, using only untreated milk and spooning it by hand into casts. According to legend, this is the original recipe that a priest handed to Marie Harel in 1791.

Independent cheese makers use these regulations to officially call their product "Camembert de Normandie". To de-emphasize the difference, the large multinationals labeled their cheeses as the similar "Camembert fabriqué en Normandie" (or camembert made in Normandy).

Studies have proven that many consumers don't understand the difference in label and may prefer to buy the more widely manufactured variety since it costs roughly half as much. In order to offset this, traditionalists are attempting to stop the multinational producers, particularly Lactalis, from utilizing the word "Normandie".

As Véronique Richez-Lerouge, the president of the Association de Fromage Terroir, says, the companies that mass-produce cheeses have few rules; they might use powder and milk from any source as long as it is made in Normandy. Richez-Lerouge also referenced a 1992 decree that said that any cheese not in the AOP may not name its region.

At the time of the directive, the government gave the cheese multinationals a five-year stay, and after that, another. Inao, the organization which handles AOP matters, hasn't raised the issue since the second stay of execution ended in 2002.

A fed-up Richez-Lerouge finally submitted a complaint to the French fraud office earlier this month. First, she bought a multinational-produced camembert with "Normandie" on the packaging to underscore her point.

President of the Association for the Defense and Management of Camembert of Normandy, Patrick Mercier, says that the fraud office is soft on the big companies and hard on the small ones.

Meanwhile, Lactalis representative Jean-Michel Nalet claims that taking "Normandie" off their packaging would hurt the business and possibly endanger 1,200 jobs. Nalet believes that both products have a place in the market.

On November 22nd, Inao will meet with camembert makers to resolve the issue.

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