Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Story of Camembert

If you've ever wondered what the difference is between Brie and Camembert, this story will explain. If you've never wondered about it, this story will be like learning about Citric acid cycle in the 8th grade — something you remember studying, but can't recall anything about.

A long time ago farmers used surplus milk to make cheese. This was a use-it-or-lose-it time in history before refrigerators and freezers. Brie was a well-known cheese that came from the district around Brie, France. France has a very strict naming tradition — Champagne is a well-known sparkling wine from Champagne; Chablis is a chardonnay from the town of Chablis and Dijon mustard was developed in..., Dijon.

Some time during the French Revolution a farm wife in Normandy hid a priest, who was on the run, from Brie, city. Anyway, you gotta figure that the farmer made the priest help with the chores, so as a result, the priest probably passed on a few secrets from his cheese-making days at the monastery.

Evidently, the cheese was a hit because the woman kept making it and all her neighbors clamored for the recipe. Knowing the value of a secret, she passed the recipe on to her daughter who eventually set up shop in the nearby village of Camembert. One day Napoleon III was in town for the opening of a rail line. During a PR tour of the town he tried the cheese and dubbed it "Camembert." The celebrity endorsement was good for business and she lived happily ever after. The only problem is that Camembert is a style of cheese that can be made anywhere.

In our current times, where man has deft control of temperature, fat percentages, and micro-organisms, there are two main differences between the two cheeses. First, brie is made with more butterfat, making it oozier and creamier. Second, Camembert is made with Penicillium camemberti, while Brie is made with Brevibacterium linens. It has been my experience that the two cheeses look exactly the same, and eat very much alike. Depending on the desired preparation it seems clear that when we want something more firm we choose Camembert, it’s that easy.

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