Camembert cheese and Brie cheese have a lot in common. These French cheeses look and taste similar, and they can be stored and eaten in similar ways. But key differences in their characteristics and how and where they’re produced make each cheese unique. Here’s a breakdown of the differences between Camembert and Brie.
Are Camembert and Brie the Same?
Camembert and Brie are both bloomy rind cheeses, and both originated in northern France. They have similar flavor profiles, and to the untrained eye, they look like the same cheese—but they’re not. So how are they different?
While Camembert and Brie are part of the same cheese subfamily—soft-ripened cheeses with a bloomy rind—and come from the same country, each variety has unique characteristics and identity.
What Is Camembert?
Camembert is a soft-ripened, bloomy rind cheese made in a small format, typically no larger than eight ounces, often about the size of a hockey puck. It’s known for its soft white rind created by microbes like Penicillium camemberti, one of the many bacteria, molds, and yeasts that work on the cheese to ripen it from the outside in.
Inside, Camembert has a soft yet solid paste that gradually becomes an oozy, liquid cream line as the cheese matures. Its flavors range from milky and buttery to earthy, mushroomy, or vegetal. As it ages, the exterior of Camembert may develop reddish markings that signal its bolder flavor and softer texture.
Most importantly, traditional Camembert’s identity is outlined by a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) defined by the European Union. Camembert de Normandie, as the PDO version of this cheese is known, must be made in certain parts of the Basse and Haute Normandie regions of France. The cheese must be made with raw milk from herds that are at least 50% Normande cows, and the animals must graze on grass for at least six months of the year.
What Is Brie?
Brie—officially Brie de Meaux, a name-protected cheese—is in the same subfamily as Camembert, but its production process, geography, and format are slightly different.
Like Camembert de Normandie, Brie de Meaux is legally defined by the EU. It must be made in the Seine-et-Marne and Ile de France region just east of Paris using raw milk and certain traditional techniques, such as scooping the curds into molds with a traditional perforated implement called a pelle à brie.
Brie’s proximity to Paris helped make this cheese a favorite of rich and poor alike as early as the seventh century. In the 17th century, cheesemakers began using rennet to make this cheese, resulting in the wide, flat wheels weighing up to seven pounds that we’re familiar with today. Depending on its age, Brie de Meaux offers similar sensory characteristics to Camembert, including soft, creamy textures, a bloomy white rind, and flavor notes ranging from milky to nutty to brothy.
What’s Better, Camembert or Brie?
While Brie de Meaux has been referred to as “the king of cheeses and the cheese of kings,” even counting the emperor Charlemagne among its fans, both Brie and Camembert are high-quality artisan cheeses with centuries of tradition and craftsmanship behind them.
Both styles are widely emulated around the world. Since raw-milk versions of these cheeses can’t be imported into the United States, Brie and Camembert-style cheeses by small-scale American artisans are often better options than pasteurized imports from France.
Whether you go for Brie or Camembert, be sure to appreciate each cheese for its unique identity and note the differences and similarities you notice when enjoying them. They can be paired with many of the same foods and beverages, including fresh berries, stone fruit, honey, preserves, cured meats, and roasted mushrooms. Both cheeses go well with crisp white or fruity red wines, especially sparkling white wines like Champagne or Prosecco.
What’s your favorite French bloomy rind cheese? Do you prefer Brie or Camembert? Tag us @cheesegrotto on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and let us know!