Flavours of Normandy (I): the Camembert
A visit to Normandy #normandy is not just about history but also about flavours. The farmers take great pride in their produce and the Camembert is, by far, the most important!
The story of the Camembert cheese #camembert began in the XVIII century and it is intimately connected to the French Revolution. According to popular history, two years after the storming of ‘La Bastille’, on a rainy day of October, a priest was trying to escape a group of soldiers who were chasing him through Normandy countryside. Their goal was to force the cleric to renounce his vows and sign the convention. Exhausted, the priest decided to ask for help and took a leap of faith by knocking on the door of Beaumoncel Manor. The woman who answered the door was Marie Harel and she proved to be a wonderful host.
One day, while the priest was watching Marie fill her molds with fresh cow’s milk curd, the man of the cloth decided to return the favour to Marie for having helped him in such a difficult moment by talking her through the cheese making process used by people in his home region of Brie. The main difference between the recipe Marie was following and that suggested by the priest resided in the fact that the latter implied drying the curds by draining, salting and then ageing in a ventilated room. Hesitant at first, Marie took the priest’s advice and the Camembert was born.
Camembert cheese is traditionally made using raw cow's milk, although some modern producers use pasteurised milk to comply with health regulations. The cheese-making process typically involves the following steps:
Milk collection: The milk is collected from cows that have been grazing on the lush pastures of Normandy.
Coagulation: A starter culture and rennet are added to the milk to initiate coagulation, which causes the milk to form a curd.
Cutting and draining: The curd is cut into small pieces and left to drain, allowing the whey to separate from the curd.
Molding: The curd is then placed into molds, which help to shape the cheese and remove any remaining whey.
Salting: The cheese is then lightly salted, which helps to preserve it and enhance its flavour.
Ageing: The cheese is left to age for several weeks in a cool, damp cellar. During this time, it develops its distinctive bloomy rind and creamy texture.
Throughout the ageing process, the cheese is carefully monitored and turned regularly to ensure that it matures evenly. Once it is fully matured, Camembert cheese is typically packaged in its characteristic round wooden box.
Although it enjoyed immediate success at local markets, it wasn't until the late XIX century that Camembert gained widespread recognition. As the story goes, the emperor Napoleon III himself became a fan of this Normandy cheese as soon as it entered on the Parisian market thanks to the construction of the first railroads.
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Falaise and Pays d'Auge tour includes a visit to a dairy where you will get to see how Normandy cheese is being made!
During World War I, Camembert cheese became an important food source for French soldiers, who often carried it with them on the front lines. The cheese's popularity continued to grow, and by the 1920s, it had become a staple in French cuisine.
In the XX century, Camembert faced several challenges, including competition from other cheeses and the standardisation of production methods. In 1983, the French government granted Camembert AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) status, which ensured that the cheese was made using traditional methods and ingredients.
Today, Camembert remains one of the most popular cheeses in the world being enjoyed both in France and abroad. The cheese's rich history and distinctive flavour continue to make it a beloved part of French culture and cuisine.
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