Camembert is a French cheese made of cow milk. Its name comes from the village of Camembert in Normandy, where the cheese is made. Camembert is very similar to brie, but can be distinguished primarily by brie's larger size. Camembert is traditionally made in rounds that are 4.5 inches in width and 1.5 inches in thickness, whereas brie is often much larger.

Camembert is a ripened (i.e. moldy) cheese with a white rind and pale yellow interior. It is very soft and easily spread. It is ripened using the Penicillium camemberti mold, and the length of ripening time determines the strength or mildness of the resulting cheese.

A soft cheese, invented, or rather perfected in about the year 1790, by a local farmer's wife, Mme Harel, to whom, in grateful memory, a statue has been erected in the little village of Camembert, near Vimoutiers (Orne).

Good quality Camembert is made from whole unskimmed milk.

Camembert is made mainly in the winter by a process very similar to that used in the manufacture of Brie, but the micro-organisms are different and give to the cheese a slight characteristic bitterness which the makers attribute to the oat-straw of the wicker trays.

Camembert, which is chiefly made in the regions of Vimoutiers and Livarot, is disc-shaped, thicker and much smaller than Brie. Like Brie, its crust must be a yellowish-orange without any black streaks. The cheese must be pale yellow, smooth and without holes. It must not be runny.

Camembert is made today all over France and even in other countries, but it is laid down by law that its place of origin must be indicated.

The Camembert 'season' lasts from October to June.

CAMEMBERT is not only a cheese,
It's above all a nice village
That one day gave its name
To this reknown cheese.
Do you want to know its history?
It's simple, you should trust me:
In the Beaumoncel manor
Lived Marie Harel.
She was a humble farmer,
Here, all the women are proud of her.
It's her who created it,
Helped by a priest, she was hiding.
Fleeing the revolution upheaval,
He found a refuge there.
Seeing how bravely she was working,
He told her how to mature it.
It was her reward.
Here, the camembert was born.
Of course now, it is made every where:
In the whole Europe, in America, even farther...
But here, It's not a dream,
Two farmers took over from Marie Harel.
If you are a bit greedy
By both of them, you'll find it excellent
-Father Etienne, Camembert priest


Contrary to popular belief, Marie Harel did not invent the delectable cheese of the Norman town of Camembert. This cheese, or a cheese very similar to it, had been made for at least one hundred years before Harel was accredited with its creation in 1791. Thomas Corneille wrote in his “General Geographic and Historical History” about the splendid cheeses you could buy at the Camembert markets in 1708 and other records date as far back as 1680. Instead, Harel slightly altered the recipe (in a way which was, in fact, dictated to her by her friend Abbey Bonvoust) and, more importantly, commercialized the cheese outside of the small town of Camembert. In 1855, Harel’s daughter presented the cheese to Napoleon, saying that it came from a village named Camembert. He praised it, exclaiming it was the finest cheese he had ever tasted. From then on, the cheese took on its contemporary name.

The boom of railroads and steamboats in Europe in the late nineteenth century allowed this delicious secret to expand its horizons. Although a great opportunity, many producers were faced with the problem of how to ship the cheese. In 1890, Ridel, a French engineer, designed the simple, effective wooden box that would become a trademark of Camembert.

As expected, Camembert was a huge success. As demand increased, more farms were created. As milk became the primary agricultural production of the town, rich farmers formed co-operative societies to collect milk from different farms. This resulted in a change of taste and a softer texture. It also during this time that Camembert acquired its light yellow color.

Inevitably, other countries made attempts to forge their own Camembert cheese. Although flattering at first, Norman producers did not appreciate the degrading of their profession and passion. In 1909 the Syndicat des Fabricants du Véritable Camembert de Normandie was formed (The Genuine Camembert of Normandy Makers Syndicate) under president M. Vignoboule. In order to preserve the quality and tradition of their cheese, they obtained the “Label Rouge,” a French quality label, in 1968. Although some major companies use factory machines to mass produce Camembert, most companies still use traditional methods of creating their cheese, making it just as good as it was back in 1800.


First, the milk (which is from the countryside of Normandy, no other milk will do) is poured into larges bowls called “bassines normandes,” where the milk curdles. Rennet (an enzyme that reduces the time necessary to separate the liquids from the solids) is added, and the milk is let sit until it turns into curds. Once done, it is removed by hand using special ladles and placed into the mould, where the curds are leveled. It is vital that this done slowly and carefully to prevent the curds from being shaken. The mould is placed on a shelf overnight, in order to drain off the whey. The next morning, the cheese, which is now in its final shape, is covered with a thin later of salt and penicillium candidum, a fungus. Here is where you need the patience: the cheese is left on a shelf for approximately 15 days. After this, the cheese is boxed and shipped to markets worldwide.

Tips on properly enjoying Camembert:
  • Opinions on the best time to eat Camembert cheese vary. Some say it is best when eaten 21 to 25 days after its creation, others say 30 to 35. The longer the cheese stays out, the softer it gets.
  • All experts agree Camembert is at its peak during Spring, when the quality of the milk is higher.
  • Camembert should be stored in a refrigerator between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius. It is best eaten at between 18 and 20 degrees Celsius.
  • Camembert is generally enjoyed best on a good French bread.
Fat 52 grams
Water 135 grams
Proteins, lactose, etc. 63 grams
Total 250 grams

Country: France
Appearance: Soft and light yellow, with a thin white crust, sometimes with small red dots.
Texture: Soft
Milk: Cow milk
Fat Content: 45%
Recommended Wine: St. Emilion, St. Estephe

Random facts:
  • It is said that Camembert can be a source of artistic inspiration. There have been countless songs written about the splendors of the cheese. Salvador Dali even claimed that he came up with the idea of soft watches while indulging in Camembert cheese.
  • In the early 1900’s, Joël Hubaut created the sport of Camembert-throwing. Competitions in this sport still take place today, with the record being over forty meters.
  • For a long time Camembert was used as a medicine for stomachaches, supposedly with great results. Joseph Knirim, an American visitor, was so convinced that his virus was cured by the cheese that had a statue of Marie Harel erected in the village.
  • The taste of Camembert is so popular in the Norman area that they sell chocolate-covered camembert, camembert cider, and camembert ice cream, served on hot toast.

Camembert, poetry,
Bouquet of our meals,
What would become life,
If you did not exist?
-Brillat Savarin

I find cooking for one so difficult!

It's the single person's lament. Cooking for one person can seem so pointless, so wasted, so redundant. What's the point of standing on already aching feet to chop and fry and stir and whisk when you're going to sit down alone and not share the joy of your creation with someone you love, or least like a little bit? Part of the pleasure of eating is that it is a social activity, that meals are shared experiences. And it is far from discussing whether or not the chicken needed more lemon, wondering how well the squash would have worked with cinnamon and cumin instead of sage, and marvelling at the £4.99 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc you found in Waitrose. It's about enjoying the same thing at the same time. It's about recounting your day to someone who is bothered to listen. It's about making people laugh and smile and joke. It's hard to do those things with yourself.

As someone who loves food and relishes cooking, I admit that on occasion I can find it a struggle to cook for me alone. Sometimes it's because I really want roast chicken, and roast chicken for one is entirely impractical. Other times it is because so much of the pleasure that I derive from food is watching people I love enjoy it. And occasionally it is because I've worked an 11 hour day, my feet feel as if they do not belong to me, my brain has absented itself from my cranium, and even boiling a kettle seems to be an insurmountable task. Those are the days when I thank heaven for leftovers. And smoked salmon.

As someone who loves food and relishes cooking, I have discovered that there can be a great joy in cooking for one. You can attempt that slightly dubious flavour combination and not be embarrassed if it is as terrible as you considered it might be. You can make yourself Dover Sole à la meunière and not worry that you've just spent £8 on a fish. Or you can make yourself something that is really, really good for one.

Says she who this evening polished off just about all of a Camembert, baked in its box.

In truth, this isn't really cooking; this is making things hot. But do not let that — or the fat content — deter you from making it for yourself. It's ludicrously easy and supremely delicious, provided of course that you like strong tasting gooey French cheese. Finding a half-way decent Camembert will not necessitate a pilgrimage to Normandy, although I can see the appeal in that. I picked up mine in the supermarket for just over £2. From start to finish this took me no longer than 30 minutes, and I managed to send a couple of emails in between. This was hardly demanding, either physically or mentally.

Preheat your oven to 200° Celsius and whilst it is warming, take your Camembert and remove from its box and divest it of its waxed paper wrapping. Then return the cheese to its box. Prick it all over with a fork. Rub the surface of the cheese with the cut side of a clove of garlic. Sprinkle a dash of dry white wine over the cheese. Don't douse it or drown it: sprinkle. This evening I used a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but a Chablis or Viognier would work equally well. Replace the lid and deposit the box of cheese on a baking sheet before placing it in the oven. It should take somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes for the inside of the cheese to transform into a molten pool of unctuous deliciousness. And no, you won't set light to the box, provided that you don't decide to wander off and read Lady Chatterley's Lover, thereby forgetting about the cheese. (But don't forget that the box is held together with metal pins. They get hot in the oven.)

The ideal accompaniments for such a box of cheese will complement it in flavour, texture, and consistency. I would therefore recommend a selection from the following: asparagus, capsicum, carrot, cucumber, gherkins, new potatoes, and pickled onions. Apples, pears, and grapes should not be overlooked, either. Do not, of course, forget a glass of white wine. You have, after all, already opened the bottle. Now, settle down to enjoy this in splendid isolation. And use your fingers!

Ca`mem`bert" (?), n., or Camembert cheese.

A kind of soft, unpressed cream cheese made in the vicinity of Camembert, near Argentan, France; also, any cheese of the same type, wherever made.


© Webster 1913.

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