Camembert is one of France’s most iconic cheeses. This luscious, buttery, bloomy rind cow's milk cheese is delicious whether it’s served on a cheese board or baked into puff pastry. Here’s what to know about French Camembert cheese.
Where Is Camembert Cheese From?
Camembert cheese originated in Normandy, specifically in the village of Camembert. Historical records date the first mention of cheese from Camembert to the early 18th century. One legend states that farmer Marie Harel invented the cheese during the French Revolution.
This original Camembert is officially known as Camembert de Normandie, which received a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) from the European Union in 1983. That means only cheeses made in certain parts of Normandy from the raw milk of at least 50% Normande cows can be marketed under the name Camembert de Normandie. However, the generic term “camembert” has come to describe any mild, soft, small-format bloomy rind cheese regardless of where it’s produced.
Today, Camembert-style cheeses are made all over the world, including in the United States. We carry Petite Camembert, a creamy, flavorful variety made by Marin French Cheese in Petaluma, California in our online cheese shop.
How Camembert Cheese Is Made
Camembert cheese is made by culturing pasteurized milk in the United States, though French Camembert must be made with raw milk. The cheesemaker coagulates the cultured milk with rennet, forming soft yet solid curd. The curd is cut into cubes roughly half an inch in size. Next, the curd is transferred into small cylindrical molds and allowed to drain.
Wheels of Camembert are then salted and ripened for about two weeks before they are wrapped in ripening paper. During this time, Camembert cheese forms its signature white skin, which is edible. This rind is made by communities of beneficial microbes, including the bacteria Penicillium candidum, slowly ripening the cheese from the outside in.
As the microbes break down the fats and proteins in the cheese, the area beneath the rind will form a soft, liquid cream line. As it ages, Camembert’s cream line takes over more of the interior of the cheese, and the wheel will develop stronger flavors and aromas. The cheese is typically sold at about one month old but can be aged longer depending on the preferences of the eater.
Camembert Versus Brie
While Camembert and Brie are both French bloomy rind cheeses, they are not exactly the same.
Traditional Brie de Meaux, a protected and much older cheese made in France, dates back to the eighth century. It’s typically produced in a larger, flat wheel, which is why it’s often sold in precut pie-style slices rather than whole wheels, while Camembert is sold as a single uncut, smaller wheel.
In terms of flavor, Brie and Camembert have similar sensory profiles, ranging from milky, buttery, and tangy when young to mushroomy, brothy, or vegetal when aged longer. When overripe, both Brie and Camembert will develop an unpleasant ammonia aroma and a brown, cracked rind.
How to Eat Camembert Cheese
With lush textures and flavors ranging from lactic to earthy, Camembert is ideal for serving on a cheese plate or charcuterie board with a wide range of sweet and savory accompaniments. Camembert pairs well with a drizzle of honey, fresh berries, or fruit preserves, but you can also enjoy it with cured meats, sauteed mushrooms, or roasted garlic.
When pairing drinks with Camembert cheese, seek out dry, carbonated beverages to highlight its mild, milky flavor and offset its rich, creamy texture. Champagne, prosecco, and sparkling white or rose wine are all excellent options, as are fizzy gin cocktails like a gin and tonic or French 75. For a nonalcoholic pairing, try fruity kombucha or elderflower lemonade.
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