In France, a Controversy over Camembert Large-scale manufacturers in France are hoping to change the rules over what can, and cannot, be regarded as authentic Camembert. The controversy centers around what type of milk can be used to make the cheese.
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In France, a Controversy over Camembert

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In France, a Controversy over Camembert

In France, a Controversy over Camembert

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Back now with DAY TO DAY.

In France, food is practically a national religion. Purists there are outrage over the faith of Camembert, the soft cheese from Normandy.


It's all about the coveted government certificate of authenticity. To get that, Camembert has to be made with hand-ladled, unfiltered raw milk.

BRAND: But now the two biggest Camembert producers are using treated milk - milk that's either heated or strained - because they say it's safer that way. And they want the government to certify their cheese as authentic.

BROOKS: Benedict Beauge is a French food writer and historian. He says making Camembert with treated milk is wrong.

Mr. BENEDICT BEAUGE (Food Writer): The complexity of flavor is not the same. It's less complex when it's treated milk. And with raw milk you have a - it's a more complex flavor, a more tasty flavor, and it's one of the important things.

BROOKS: This is something that you would like to see protected, I guess.

Mr. BEAUGE: Yes, yes. You know, Camembert is quite a national symbol.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BEAUGE: No, but more seriously, it's the quality of this cheese is the special taste and the soft texture, and it's a pity.

BROOKS: Mr. Beauge, let me ask you this. The two big companies that want to use treated milk to make Camembert, they claim the treated milk is safer. Are they wrong?

Mr. BEAUGE: I think it's mainly for economic reasons. It's easier and cheaper to make cheese from treated milk than from raw milk and it's certainly a good reason.

BROOKS: Yeah. And I understand these two companies make about 90 percent of the Camembert in France. If they do this and if the government says we will call this authentic Camembert cheese, what does that do to the other small producers of Camembert?

Mr. BEAUGE: They are going to die, you know. It's - it would be very difficult to produce true cheese in the traditional way. It will be so expensive.

BROOKS: How do you predict this is going to turn out? Is the government going to grant their certificate of authenticity to cheeses using treated milk?

Mr. BEAUGE: It would be very surprising. A lot of countries, as Italy or Spain or Switzerland, adopted the same system and it's - now it's to rule in Europe. So it would be very difficult, I think.

BROOKS: All right. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Beauge. I appreciate your help.

Mr. BEAUGE: Thank you.

BROOKS: That's Mr. Benedict Beauge, a French food writer and historian speaking to us from Pier 4 in Central France about the battle in France to protect traditional Camembert. And by the way, the cheese called Camembert that is produced and shipped to the U.S. does use treated milk because of Federal Food and Drug Administration rules.

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