Cheese war in France as traditional camembert producers battle with industrial rivals over prestigious label

Traditional camembert producers in France have hit out over “unfair” competition from "mediocre" mass-produced alternatives, ending a brief truce in the two-decade long cheese war.

Craft producers who use unpasteurised milk from Normandy cows to make France’s favourite soft cheese have resumed their long-running battle against proposed changes in labelling rules to take effect in 2021.

Until now, the prestigious label “appellation d’origine protegee” (AOP), has been reserved for unpasteurised camembert made with at least 50 per cent milk from Normandy cows.

But the changes would allow mass-produced and pasteurised products to claim AOP status.

In a bid to end the row, makers of the two types of Camembert agreed in February to share the AOP label on condition that industrial cheesemakers start using milk from herds with at least 30 per cent of Normandy cows.

But purists were never entirely satisfied with the compromise deal. Now the traditional producers who make 5,000 tons of unpasteurised Camembert are once again up in arms.

They argue that the market will be flooded by industrial producers who churn out more than 10 times as much cheese — some 60,000 tons a year. Traditional unpasteurised Camembert, reputed to taste better than heat-treated cheese, is in danger of disappearing, they claim.

Artisanal producers have protested by mailing smelly parcels of cheese to MPs, and demonstrating outside the National Assembly.  

Véronique Richez-Lerouge, head of the Fromages de Terroirs association, which campaigns for the preservation of “real” cheese, said it was a “travesty” to grant the AOP label to industrial Camembert.

“The AOP system was conceived to protect products from being copied but these changes will have exactly the opposite effect. They would mark a victory for industrial food and paranoia over raw milk, and will open the way to unfair competition from manufacturers of mediocre mass-produced cheese.”

Jean-Marie Camembert, a Grand Master of the Confraternity of the Knights of Camembert, another organisation that campaigns for traditional cheeses, lamented that – unlike champagne – Camembert is not a protected trade name, which means that cheese made outside France may be labelled Camembert.

A jury voted an unpasteurised Canadian version the world’s best camembert last year, but after tasting it, Mr Camembert sniffed: “Its taste is mediocre.”

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