Louis la Vache continues his series on les fromages de France, the subject today being Camembert, le fromage normand archétypal. (Louis is certain that you will be surprised that he is posting something about dairy production in Normandie - NOT!)
The (perhaps apocryphal) story of the origin of Camembert has it that in 1791, Marie Harel, a farmer's wife, developed a recipe for Camembert from a recette she learned for Brie from l'abbé (abbot) Bonvoust, a monk she sheltered who was fleeing a tribunal of la révolution française. L'abbé was from the area of Brie and shared his recipe with her. Thus Camembert, the national symbol of French cheese, was born. Camembert, story of its origins apocryphal or not, shares many characteristics with Brie, the principal difference being that Brie is typically sold in wheels of about 2 kilos (4.5 pounds) in weight vs. the much smaller 250 kilogram (8.8 ounce) wheels typical of Camembert. Camembert takes its name from the village of Camembert in le département d'Orne en basse-Normandie. (Government in France is much more centralized than in the U.S. The country is not organized into states as in the U.S., but into départements, roughly analogous to U.S. or British counties.)
There are many types of Camembert. The one that has earned an AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) is made from lait cru, unpasturized cow's milk. Like its relative Brie, Camembert is a soft ripening cheese with a powdery white rind, a croûte fleuri. It must be aged at least 21 days and can only be made in five départements de Normandie. Other Camemberts are made with pasturized milk to allow them to be exported. Some are also washed with Calvados or cidre after they have been aged.
The origin of Camembert as we know it today is likely to rest with the beginnings of the industrialization of the cheese-making process at the end of le XIX ème siècle. In about 1880 (some sources say 1890), an engineer, a Monsieur Ridel, invented a wooden box made from thin strips of poplar, which was used to carry the cheese and helped to send it for longer distances, in particular to America where it became very popular. These boxes are still used today. Until Ridel invented his method of packaging Camembert, it was only enjoyed locally and in Paris.
The cheese was famously issued to French troops during la premiere guerre mondial, becoming firmly fixed in French popular culture as a result. It has many other roles in French culture, literature and history. It is internationally known, and many local varieties are made around the world. The cheese is said to have inspired Salvador Dalí to create his famous painting, "The Persistence of Memory." Its "melting" watches were inspired by the sight of a melting wheel of over-ripe Camembert.
The cheese is often served at the end of the meal. It has a strong dairy smell with a milky, fruity taste. It can also be coated and fried, melted in its box and used as a dip or melted on sandwiches. Camembert is most commonly served at room temperature with bread and a bubbly cidre normand or a glass of Côtes du Rhone or Bordeaux.
Et maintenant, une recette en utilisant le camembert!
Recette: Quiche au Camembert
Pour vôtre régal de nouvelle année: Brie Farcie
La Vrai Quiche Lorraine par Boulanger Gérard Mulot
Quiche gourmande aux poivrons
Cheese: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best
Camembert: A National Myth (Image not available)