Camembert is one of the most beloved bloomy rind cheeses. Known for its snowy white rind, buttery flavor, creamy texture, and small size, this iconic French cheese has a fascinating—and possibly apocryphal—history. Here’s the legendary origin story of Camembert cheese.
Where Does Camembert Cheese Come From?
Camembert comes from Normandy in northern France. The official name of the original, officially protected Camembert is actually Camembert de Normandie; only cheeses made in certain parts of the region with the milk from certain types of heritage breed cows may use the name. Elsewhere in the world, “Camembert” is used to refer to small-format, soft-ripened bloomy cheeses made in this style.
Thanks to its cool, wet climate, grass grows year-round in Normandy. This makes it an excellent place to raise cows and other ruminants for cheesemaking. Other famous cheeses originating in Normandy include Neufchâtel, Brie de Meaux, and Livarot.
Who Invented Camembert Cheese?
Camembert’s popular origin story is that Marie Harel, a farm woman from the Norman village of Camembert, first made this cheese in 1791 during the French Revolution.
According to lore, Marie provided shelter for a priest from the town of Brie—home of another iconic French bloomy rind cheese—who was fleeing the revolution. She was given the recipe in return, then adapted it to her region’s cheesemaking traditions to create a new cheese.
When Was Camembert Cheese Invented?
While historical records prove that Marie Harel was a farm woman from Camembert around this time, they do not specifically back up the Harel family’s story that Camembert was first produced in 1791. In fact, records note that unique cheeses were being made in Camembert before Marie’s birth in 1761.
Regardless of this French artisan cheese’s historical origins, Marie’s descendants carried on Camembert production and used their marketing sense to spread the cheese—and the legend of its origin—far and wide. The cheese gained a greater audience when one of her grandsons provided the cheese to Napoleon III in the 1860s.
In the 1920s, Camembert producers revived her story as a promotional tool. Some brands of Camembert de Normandie even include pictures of a farm woman meant to be Marie Harel on the label, and a statue of Marie in nearby Vimoutiers pays homage to her contributions to the craft.
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