Camembert traditionalists whose cheese making techniques have remained virtually unchanged since the French Revolution have declared “war” on their industrial rivals.
The purists are suing their mass-market competitors for “usurpation of notoriety”, saying they are unfairly cashing in on their time-honoured traditions and killing “true” Camembert off in the process, arguing that cheese lovers cannot work out which is the real thing.
The row is over the term used to describe the cheese.
Producers of old-fashioned Camembert, the oozing, pungent variety made from raw, unsterilised milk mainly from local cows, have their own special appellation d’origine protégée, or AOP, label.
Their recipe, which includes painstakingly hand ladling the milk into moulds, is in keeping with the one given to Marie Harel – an inhabitant of the Norman village of Camembert – by a priest fleeing FrenchRevolutionaries in 1791.
Only by adhering to a strict charter can these producers call their cheese “Camembert de Normandy” (Camembert of Normandy).
“Industrial” producers of the pasteurised variety without the AOP label have got around this by calling their cheese “Camembert fabriqué en Normandie” (Camembert made in Normandy).
The result is that 90 per cent of consumers are unaware which type they are buying, according to a recent study.
This confusion has contributed to true camembert’s market share halving in five years to just five per cent, with 4,300 tonnes of the cheese sold compared to around 90,000 tonnes for the mass-produced pasteurised brands.
“We have nothing against the industrial producers per se but their practices threaten our existence,” said AOP Camembert maker Patrick Mercier.
He and France’s eight other AOP Camembert producers intend to file a legal complaint by the end of the year.
“We want the courts to remove their right to use the word Normandy on their labels. They had temporary authorisation to use it for ten years, but that expired in 2002,” he said.