Lifestyle / Gastronomy

Making Real Camembert Cheese: Endangered Tradition

Globalization has triggered a culinary battle between industrial producers and traditional producers of Camembert cheese.

Aug 20, 2016 | By Madelaine Angelina

One may think that France the holy land of cheese, with all due respect to the Italians, Swiss, English and Germans. Even so, globalization has triggered a culinary battle between industrial producers and traditional producers of cheese. Take the world-famous Camembert cheese for example. Only one traditional fromagerie still stands today, producing the authentic Camembert cheese that the region is renowned for: the Durand family.

Dairy producers “are really in dire straits,” said Nicolas Durand, 43, owner of the Heronniere farm in the northwestern French region of Normandy where Europe’s biggest dairy group Lactalis has bought out numerous farms like his.

Today, Durand’s seven employees turn 90 percent of the milk from his 90 cows into 700 to 800 cheeses a day, up from 600 in the year 2000. But still, a small producer like him can only rely on direct distribution. Lactalis, the biggest mass-produced Camembert maker today, distributes to supermarkets in France and abroad.

If one would ask someone at a Heronniere farm how a “Durand” differs from a factory-produced Camembert, they will laugh, saying even the question is an “insult”. Durand claims that his cheese is not only AOP (Protected Designation of Origin) labeled, but also has a “fermier” texture. It is also entirely made with milk from cows in their own farm, which preserves the taste and quality. A cheese seller from the Normandy port of Caen commented that Durand’s Camembert “has a stronger, richer scent.” It couldn’t be compared with Lactalis’ Camembert, which was made from pasteurized milk rather than raw milk.

However, industrial versions will always be the cheaper option. Durand Camembert fetches 4.40 euros (about $5) on the farm and 5.60 euros (about $7) at the Caen merchant’s store. The production process of the Camembert cheese is certainly complex (due to its artisanal culinary heritage) and time-consuming. While Durand’s supply is necessarily limited, demand is strong and the farm is already attracting some 10,000 visitors a year.

He is working with partners to develop his marketing strategy and to gain more interest from tourists.

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