Camembert cheese is one of France's most famous culinary traditions—but as Bloomberg reports, truly authentic wheels of the soft, creamy delicacy are in danger of disappearing from market shelves.
The Camembert sold at your local grocery store may be tasty, but it technically isn't the real deal, purists say. That honor is reserved for a type of cheese called Camembert de Normandie, which comes from the Normandy region of France. It's made with unpasteurized milk collected from local cows, contains a fat content of at least 38 percent, and is produced using the same time-honored methods first utilized by 18th-century farmers. (The cheese's purported inventor is French cheesemaker Marie Harel, who, according to legend, first created it in 1791 by adapting a priest's recipe.) To distinguish a "real" Camembert wheel from a fake one, foodies look for a label bearing the letters PDO, which indicates that the cheese's provenance is legitimate.
Sadly for fromage fans, production of Camembert de Normandie is on the wane. In 2007, several large-scale Camembert producers petitioned to legally use pasteurized milk instead of the raw variety. That would allow them to lower production costs by relying on multiple milk sources and making the cheese in larger batches. (The consumption of unpasteurized milk also carries health risks; for this reason, the sale of "real" Camembert cheese is banned in the U.S.)
Smaller Camembert producers protested the move, and they won the battle. In turn, big businesses began making an imitation Camembert that was better for their bottom line. Over the years, these same companies have been buying out smaller farms while producing a less-expensive product. While palatable to many, the cheese isn't actually Camembert—and today, only 1 percent of the 360 million wheels of Camembert produced annually are deemed authentic.
Camembert production may be going au revoir, but French farmers say the best way to keep the cheese alive is by, well, eating it. We can't think of a more delicious way to preserve culture.