Industrialization of AOC Camembert Covered by New York Times


You heard it here first, but there's an article in today's New York Times Dining & Wine section that covers the A.O.C. Camembert controversy in a bit more depth. One quote I found particularly interesting concerned the actual differences between raw-milk Camemberts and those made from treated milk. The following would imply that the differences are more subtle than commonly thought, and that using treated milk poses more of a marketing challenge than anything else:

Officials at two of the top cheese emporia in Paris, Quatrehomme and Barthélémy, said they will continue to sell only raw milk Camembert even though there is only a slight difference in taste between it and cheese made with milk that has been thermized or microfiltered.

“If the Camembert is from treated milk, I will warn all my customers — and I know my sales will go down,” said Nicole Barthélémy, owner of Barthélémy on the chic Rue de Grenelle in the seventh arrondissement.

While the vast majority of Camemberts made with treated milk are gummy and tasteless, I must say that the sentiment above actually gibes with a recent experience I had with Hervé Mons' Camembert from Whole Foods Fromagerie. It was easily the best treated-milk Camembert I'd ever tasted, and it certainly rivaled some of the raw-milk versions I've had. I don't know the specifics of the milk treatment on the cheeses that Hervé ages, but if anyone out there does know, please leave a comment below!

What's sad about all this is that the desire for change in the A.O.C. rules is truly motivated by money and not taste. Like many other businesses, cheesemakers benefit from economies of scale; the more cheese you make, the greater your gross margins. The problem is that when cheese is produced on an industrial scale, there is almost no way to control for bacterial contamination. All it takes is one sick cow out of many to taint huge amounts of cheese. On the flip-side, farmstead producers can exercise a great deal of control over their own (small) herds, making tainted cheese that much more unlikely. But many farmstead producers also struggle to make a living.

UPDATE: Rob Kaufelt, Proprietor of Murray's Cheese, has posted a letter to the NY Times editor on this subject.