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Au Revoir Real Camembert? French Connoisseurs Denounce New Label

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It denounced the new rules as “shame, scandal, imposture,” even “treason,” while dismissing pasteurized milk camembert as “lifeless matter,” “pasteurized plaster” and “an ocean of mediocrity.” Pasteurization kills dangerous germs, but raw milk camembert lovers insist that it also kills flavor, robbing the cheese of richness and “terroir,” the character imparted by a specific place.

Some of the signatories, like the letter’s author, Véronique Richez-Lerouge, president of a group devoted to traditional cheeses, and François Bourgon, a noted cheesemonger, even called for a boycott of camembert if the change takes effect.

“Camembert is the emblem of French cheeses,” Mr. Bourgon said. “If it dies, others will follow.”

In fact, the old way has been waning for a long time, and it is not clear how many French consumers understand the difference, or care deeply about it. Most of the 65,000 tons of camembert sold each year in France is mass produced from pasteurized milk, and only 8.5 percent earns the coveted designation “Camembert de Normandie,” meaning that it is made in that region, to exacting standards, from raw milk.

From the baguette to Champagne, France has long seen its gastronomy as a sacred treasure, and none of the 1,200 varieties of cheese produced in the country are as much a national symbol as camembert. Dating back almost to the French Revolution, it became popular during World War I, when its producers gave free camembert to soldiers and adorned its iconic round, wooden boxes with patriotic messages.

“Camembert is a monument of the French culture and should remain so,” said Patrick Mercier, one of the few remaining producers of raw milk camembert.


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