Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Weak Cheese

To heat, or not to heat. That is the question over whether there is something rotten in the state of the Camembert:

[François] Durand is an icon in Camembert country. He claims to be the last dairy farmer in Normandy to be making Camembert commercially from hand-ladled unpasteurized milk.

Each of the 400 rounds he produces daily, which weigh 270 grams, or 9.5 ounces, is stamped with the seal "appellation d'origine contrôlée" or "AOC" - a coveted certification that authenticates the content, method and origin of production of a French agricultural item.But Camembert purists like Durand are infuriated these days because two of France's largest dairy producers want to change the rules.

Citing health concerns, the companies, Lactalis and the Isigny Sainte-Mère cooperative, which together made 90 percent of the traditional raw-milk Camembert in Normandy, began this year to treat the milk used for most of those cheeses.

In doing so, they had to sacrifice their AOC status, the first time in French history that Camembert producers voluntarily did so.

But they also have asked the French government's food board to grant that status to their new Camemberts, arguing that the processing they use - either filtering or gently heating the milk - does not sacrifice the traditional taste and character of the cheese.

Perhaps it's unusual that the French realize it's not good business practice to poison one's customers, but M. Durand says it's his way, or the highway:

"Camembert that is not made with raw milk may be cheese, but it's not real Camembert," said Durand, who took over the family farm when he was 19 and has run it for 26 years. "To not know a real raw-milk Camembert - what a loss that would be. The variety, the diversity, the flavor of cheese - the very heritage of our country - will disappear."

'Diversity' being doing it only one way? The French, they are a funny race.

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